Philosophy Revision Notes: Tolerance

Topics: Morality, Liberalism, Value theory Pages: 37 (7329 words) Published: August 30, 2013
AQA AS Philosophy Revision Notes – Tolerance

What is Tolerance?

Weak and Strong Senses of ‘Tolerance’

• Tolerance requires difference – you don’t ‘tolerate’ something that you agree with.

• However, tolerance isn’t a ‘live and let live’ attitude.

• There are several ways of responding to things that are ‘different’ (with respect to attitudes and beliefs):

o Someone can not care how other people live – this isn’t tolerance

o Someone can not object to how other people live – this is a weak sense of tolerance, because if a person ‘doesn’t mind’, how are they being tolerant?

o A stronger sense of ‘tolerance’ is the fact that the other person’s view is different matters to you, because your own views matter to you.

• In the strong sense of tolerance, we only tolerate what is different and important to us

o For example, vegetarians disapprove of eating meat

o However, most don’t try and rid the world of meat-eaters, and hence, they tolerate the practice of eating meat

o But people that eat meat isn’t a moral issue, and aren’t apposed to vegetarians don’t tolerate vegetarians – they just don’t mind them.

• To tolerate isn’t to welcome or embrace – what is tolerated is somehow problematic

• We may want to suppress this thing, but toleration means that we do not try to do so.

• During these notes, we shall talk of tolerance in ‘the strong sense’


• If tolerance involves opposition, then what kind of opposition?

o If I dislike coffee, and would like it to be banned, am I being tolerant by not lobbying for it to be banned?

▪ This seems a rather trivial view of tolerance

• If tolerance is about dislike, then what about a racist who doesn’t act upon his racism? Would he be tolerant?

o Once again, this doesn’t sound right – surely a tolerant person wouldn’t be a racist in the first place?

• Perhaps, then, tolerance depends not upon subjective tastes and dislikes, but disapproval.

• Disapproval is based on reasons, and thinking that one’s view is justified; while the contrasting view is not.

• This is not simply a question of tastes, and explains the way that differences of view matter to us.

The Value of Tolerance

• So we can define tolerance as a matter of refraining from acting on one’s disapproval of another practice or value

• But why should we think tolerance is a good thing?

• What is ‘wrong’ (murder, rape, etc.), we don’t tolerated, yet we take tolerance to have a positive moral or political value – it’s a ‘good’ thing to be tolerant.

• We can therefore say that tolerance must be based on reasons of morality or politics to be tolerance

• Because we have concluded that tolerance involves restraint, the tolerant person must be able to do something about the practises that they oppose – they must have some form of power

• Tolerance is refraining from exercising this power.

I. The Tolerant Society

Tolerance and the Ideal of a Liberal Democracy

Liberal Democracy

• Liberalism is the view that humans are naturally free, and so any restraint on their liberty by the state, in the form of laws, needs to be justified

• Liberals claim that liberty is the most central and important political value, and argue that while some restrictions on liberty can be justified, extensive restrictions cannot

• A liberal society is therefore one where its citizens have a large degree of individual liberty.

• Liberals believe that we can justify the state through a democracy, because this allows us to be free, but also governed; and that we have also consented to being governed (or at least have some say in the matter)

• But a liberal won’t be satisfied with any form of democracy, as a democracy can still pass laws that...
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