Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 T - Toleration


Toleration: Forbearance of beliefs or practices or facts that one dislikes, disagrees with or disapproves of, generally because one holds that such forbearance is in the interest of civil society or human civilization.

There is a considerable difference between respect and toleration, as there is also a considerable difference between freedom or liberty and toleration. The reason follows from the given definition: One can be fairly said to tolerate only what one does not like - heretics, dissenters, political opponents, sexual deviants, appalling fashions, drug-abuse, drunks, or whatever. It follows that one who is indifferent is either not tolerant, or is tolerant only in the extended sense of not objecting.

The basic reasons for toleration are these

1. There are bound to be many beliefs, practices and facts in every extended more or less free society that will not be liked by any member of that society - whoever the member is; whatever the beliefs, practices or facts are; and whatever the  reasons for dislike.
Every human being may know that he does not know much, and that he often has made mistakes, however carefully he may have tried not to, and that the same holds for everybody else.
Every human being may know that all human progress, however conceived, has been the result of extended discussions and speculations during many generations, during which it was often unclear, and often undecidable for lack of relevant knowledge, what the truth about some thing was.
Every human being may know that in nearly all circumstances he is much helped by the continued existence of a peaceful society, in which he is free to think and say and do what he pleases, within the compass of the law - and where accordingly it must be fair to accept that others think differently than one, provided others leave one free to think and speak and do as one desires, within the same legal limits for all.
A society in which there are many different beliefs, practises and opinions tends strongly to produce higher civilization - more and better art, science and technology - than a society in which one faith or belief has been imposed on all, and where all must conform to one standard of belief and behavior.

Therefore, it is in the interest of most to tolerate much that they do not like in others, if only so that the others may tolerate much of what they do not like in one, all in order to maintain a civil society in which men are mostly free, and let others live in peace if they are left to live in peace.

And of course, toleration has limits in that no society can long survive where the intolerant are tolerated or encouraged to be intolerant, for such intolerance tends to lead rapidly to civil or religious violent conflicts. In principle, tolerance should apply to ideas and values that are tolerant, and to practices that are not harmful to those who do not engage in them, and the main reason for tolerance is that one desires a free society, in which all may do, and say, and think what they please, as long as they abide by the laws, and leave others to do likewise.

The main enemies of toleration tend to be the fanatics of all religious and political beliefs, who desire to impose their beliefs on others whether they like or not, and all proponents of authoritarian faiths and political beliefs, who may hide their intolerance in those times and places where they cannot impose their ideas on the majority.

Other enemies of toleration tend to be populists, xenophobes, and - would-be - intellectuals or clerics who insist on the maintenance of their own principles or preferences or practices in matters where it is clear that the tolerant attitude consists mostly in trying to muddle through with compromises in the interests of civil peace and civilization.


See also:


Edwards, Mill, Popper, Voltaire

 Original: Feb 11, 2007                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top