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Tolerance: A Virtue?: Toward a Broad and Descriptive Definition of Tolerance



This article focuses on the ,difficult issue of what ,exactly goes on when,an individual ,tolerates something. It focuses on the ,problem ,of why ,an individual would ,ever choose ,to allow ,for some ,practice that he deems unacceptable,while ,having ,the power ,to do ,something ,about ,it. After distinguishing between different attitudes (tolerant as well as intolerant), this article argues that individuals can have various reasons for deciding to tolerate what they deem wrong. As such, we defend a broad conception of tolerance, which goes against the grain of recent literature in which,tolerance is generally understood as a virtue. IN THE LITERATURE ON TOLERANCE there is a divide between ,those
Philosophy in the Contemporary World 15:1 (Spring 2008)
Tolerance: A Virtue?
Towards a Broad and Descriptive
Definition of Tolerance
Bart Engelen and Thomas Nys
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Universiteit van Amsterdam
BSTRACT: This article focuses on the difficult issue of what exactly goes on
when an individual tolerates something. It focuses on the problem of why an
individual would ever choose to allow for some practice that he deems
unacceptable while having the power to do something about it. After
distinguishing between different attitudes (tolerant as well as intolerant), this
article argues that individuals can have various reasons for deciding to tolerate
what they deem wrong. As such, we defend a broad conception of tolerance,
which goes against the grain of recent literature in which tolerance is generally
understood as a virtue.
IN THE LITERATURE ON TOLERANCE there is a divide between those
who conceive of it as a virtue, and those who do not. Although most of the
contemporary authors on the topic are situated within the first camp,
we would like
to team up with the second.
We deliberately aim to stay clear from the normative issues surrounding
tolerance. Consequently, we have nothing to say about what should be tolerated and
what not. Instead, we focus on the purely conceptual and explanatory issue of what
exactly goes on when an individual tolerates something. Our aim is to reformulate
the concept of tolerance by shifting the discussion from the normative level
See for example: “the concept of toleration I discuss is the strict or narrow one, namely, that which is
distinguished from other types of restraint, like indifference or pragmatic compromise. (…). It focuses
primarily on the ethical, rather than the political context, that is, on toleration as a virtue of individuals
relating to other individuals” (Heyd 1996: 10).
Tolerance: A Virtue? 45
(“should we tolerate?”) to the descriptive one (“can we tolerate?”). In this respect,
we take the following definition of tolerance as a starting point: “the paradigm
example of toleration is the deliberate decision to refrain from prohibiting,
hindering or otherwise coercively interfering with conduct of which one
disapproves, although one has the power to do so” (Horton 1998, 429-430).
definition allows us to distinguish between three necessary requirements to speak of
tolerance: the individual (1) finds a particular practice or action objectionable or
even unacceptable (disapproval), (2) has the means to stop this practice (power) but
(3) decides not to do anything about it (self-restraint).
Take the example of homosexuality. Our aim is to investigate what goes on
when an individual decides to tolerate homosexuality. Applying the
abovementioned definition, we tentatively claim that such an individual (1)
disapproves of homosexuality but (3) decides not to interfere with the conduct of
gays (2) even in cases where he has the means to do so.
Immediately, the question arises why an individual (3) would ever choose to
allow for some practice if he (1) deems it unacceptable and (2) has the power to do
something about it. The problem we want to address here lies in explaining how one
is able to tolerate what one deems wrong.
Tolerating seems to be a remarkable
attitude, since it is difficult to understand how one can allow for such practices if
one genuinely objects to them. In search for a solution to this problem we will try to
reframe the concept of tolerance by distinguishing various categories of behaviour.
This classification is the result of a closer inspection of the abovementioned
requirements for tolerance.
I. Those who agree and those who don’t care
If we concentrate on the first requirement then it is clear that people who
experience no initial sense of objection cannot be labelled ‘tolerant’, even though
they have the power to intervene and refrain from doing so. For those who
wholeheartedly agree with a certain practice, there is no question of tolerating it.
The idea that homosexuals are tolerant with regard to homosexuality is simply
absurd. To tolerate originally means ‘to bear something unpleasant’ and if there is
no resistance whatsoever—if there is no burden to bear—then ‘tolerance’ is nothing
short of a misnomer.
Another possibility is that one is completely indifferent about a certain practice:
one simply does not care whether it is performed or not. One neither disapproves of
it, nor does one feel committed to defend it. To take our example, it is possible that
See also: “the core of the concept of toleration is the refusal, where one has the power to do so, to
prohibit or seriously interfere with conduct that one finds objectionable” (Horton 1996, 28; see also
Horton 1987, 521). Nevertheless, we defend a different view than Horton himself, who goes on to
understand tolerance as a virtue. In contrast with this broad definition (which leaves open which reasons
one might have for not interfering), he favours a narrower one: “of course, people’s reasons for showing
restraint are crucial to identifying their conduct as being tolerant. (It is partly for this reason that I have
serious doubts about a purely descriptive concept of toleration)” (Horton 1996, 39).
This problem is situated at the conceptual level. In contrast, the bulk of the literature focuses on the
normative paradox: why should one tolerate what one deems morally wrong? As will become clear, we
aim to avoid this paradox by defining tolerance in morally neutral terms.
46 Thomas Nys and Bart Engelen
one does not care at all about the sexual preferences of gays (or heteros for that
matter). Whether homosexuality is allowed or prohibited, a person who is
indifferent will not intervene, since he simply does not feel involved. It has
extensively been argued in the literature that such an attitude of indifference cannot
be the basis of genuine tolerance (Mendus 1989, 8; Mendus 1992, 1251; Nicholson
1985, 162).
If tolerance is not to be sought with those who agree or those who
couldn’t care less (Forst 2001, 193; Horton 1998, 430), it should be sought
II. Plain Intolerance
But first, let us exclude another possibility, namely the prototypical case of
intolerance. Consider a person who objects to homosexuality and who tries his very
best to purify the world from such ‘repulsive’ or ‘unnatural’ behaviour. He believes
that homosexuals should be punished or that they should receive treatment for their
‘illness’. When he sees homosexuals holding hands he will insult them or even use
violence to put an end to such ‘obscenities.’ Let us call this plain intolerance.
People who are plainly intolerant essentially put their foot down when they are
faced with something they deem objectionable. If they believe something is wrong,
they invariably react. They feel that they cannot let things pass. Consequently, they
do something about it and use their power to prevent these things from happening.
Although they clearly experience an initial sense of rejection, they obviously cannot
be called tolerant since they do not fulfil Horton’s third requirement (self-restraint).
However, it is clear that we all fit this description from time to time. Moreover,
we often believe that we have good reasons for putting our foot down. Some
practices are so abhorrent, harmful, insulting, annoying or wrong that we believe
that we should interfere, or that it is even our duty to put an end to them.
Yet, leaving aside the issue when one should be intolerant and translate one’s
sense of rejection into action, we want to stress that, at a descriptive level, this type
of behaviour is remarkably consistent. There are no mysteries here: these people
just put their fists where their mouths are. Taking their values seriously, they
consider deviant behaviour as an insult that should be properly avenged. While they
might be criticized for their simple- and single-mindedness, they cannot be accused
of inconsistency or hypocrisy.
Of course, the situation can occur that a person wants to put his foot down, but
lacks the necessary means to do so (Horton 1998: 431; Meyer 2002: 550-551). His
intolerance fails in that he is unable to do something about a certain practice he
deems highly objectionable. Some people might be horrified by the very thought of
See also: “Normally, one cannot be tolerant of something if one is either indifferent to it or approves of
it. Acting tolerantly characteristically implies some sort of negative attitude or judgment on the part of
the tolerator—ranging from mere dislike to intense moral disapproval—towards that which is tolerated”
(Horton 1998, 431).
It must be noted that someone who is plainly intolerant does not always perform physically harmful
behavior. Someone who meticulously corrects every mistake in an informal letter is intolerant as well.
What characterizes the plainly intolerant is that he translates his feelings of rejection into action. The
distinguishing mark lies not in the way in which he reacts, but in the fact that he reacts. He takes his
value system to be absolute and seeks to impose it on others.
Tolerance: A Virtue? 47
homosexuality but might be unable to voice their disgust or contribute to the
downfall of gays. Such people are condemned to allow what they deem wrong,
simply because they do not have the power to intervene. Yet, since they do not fulfil
Horton’s second requirement (power), they cannot be labelled ‘tolerant.’
III. Tolerance?
Now let us move to those cases in which all three conditions are fulfilled.
Consider a person who (1) experiences an initial sense of rejection when faced with
homosexuality but (3) refrains from putting his foot down (2) even though he has
the power to do so. Somehow he is able to overcome his sense of rejection and
allow for a practice that he continues to regard as objectionable. Such a person is
not persuaded that the practice at hand is alright. Instead, he constrains himself
despite the fact that he has serious objections against it. While this distinguishes
such a tolerant person from those who agree and those who don’t care, it also gives
rise to the problem we mentioned above. How is one able to refrain from interfering
if one nevertheless believes that there are good reasons for doing so? Is tolerance
not the pinnacle of hypocrisy?
In order to understand this we should accept that the tolerant person has reasons
for allowing the practice that override his initial sense of rejection. What is tolerated
is unmistakably rejected, but to interfere with that practice would be even worse.
Hence we take Horton’s definition to imply that a tolerant person withholds his true
beliefs from being translated into action on grounds of overriding reasons. Such a
person does not stand up for his beliefs and allows his objects of care to be trampled
An example of someone who fits this definition of tolerance is a person who
‘lets things pass’ because he is too afraid to do what he believes he has good reasons
for doing. Because he is afraid of the consequences of taking a stand, he decides not
to be plainly intolerant. We would like to dub this case pragmatic tolerance.
Although such a person cares about his values and commitments, he acts upon them
only when the cost of adherence is low. In other cases, he simply chickens out and
decides to keep his mouth shut.
For example, he does not rally against
homosexuals because he is aware of the fact that such criticism is regarded
inappropriate within the social environment in which he finds himself. Not willing
to risk his reputation and jeopardize his social position, he decides that it is not
worth the pain. The difference with the person who lacks the means to intervene is
that the pragmatically tolerant does not want to be intolerant (although he could be)
Although the objectionable practice at hand often involves a violation of one’s moral values, this is not
necessarily so. The offence can also be directed at what Frankfurt calls “the things we care about”
(Frankfurt 1988, 80-94). For example, a person might be offended by the fact that the National Anthem is
used in a commercial for tampons, although it is difficult to discern which of his moral values is violated.
For another example of a non-moral offence and its relation to tolerance, see the example of Pascal and
Wittgenstein in Van Damme (2004).
We use the term ‘pragmatic’ here in order to refer to prudential considerations, which can be
distinguished from more principled, moral reasons (Horton & Nicholson 1992, 4). This distinction will
become clearer in what follows.
48 Thomas Nys and Bart Engelen
while the person who lacks the power simply cannot be intolerant (although he
wants to be).
However, this is not the typical case of tolerance. Usually, when we think of a
tolerant person we do not believe that he is simply too afraid to translate his beliefs
into actions (Heyd 1996, 4). Instead, we typically think of a tolerant person as
having moral rather than pragmatic reasons for refraining from intervention. The
archetype of such moral tolerance is expressed in the famous quote: “I disapprove
of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
For example, a
tolerant person might be convinced that, contrary to his initial sense of rejection,
homosexuals should be allowed to engage in same-sex relationships because all
humans have an equal right to express their sexuality. Since sex is essential for
human beings, homosexuals deserve to be respected in their differences. Or else,
one might regard autonomy as a central value in liberal societies, which means that
homosexuals should be allowed to live their lives according to their own conception
of the good, especially since there is no clear and discernable harm in case of same-
sex relationships between consenting adults. Or still, one might be convinced that an
uproar against homosexuality would seriously disturb the project of peaceful
coexistence within society; something which one deems far more important—on a
moral level—than one’s own sense of repulsion against homosexuals.
Both types of tolerance involve people who ultimately refrain from interference
because they have reasons that outweigh their initial sense of rejection. The first
category refrains on the basis of pragmatic or prudential reasons. Note that, on this
account, the reasons for tolerance might be selfish but need not be. A person might
tolerate homosexuality because he believes that his children will suffer from the fact
that their father will acquire the reputation of a staunch homophobe. Although he
himself is willing to take the punches, he wants to protect those he cares about from
collateral damage.
Yet these kinds of reasons, although they are not purely selfish, are still different
from those employed by someone who is moved by a more impartial form of
reasoning that transcends his personal point of view. Even if such a person does not
in any way become worse off by being intolerant, he still puts his objections on
hold. For example, he might refrain from interfering in light of the societal benefits
of tolerance, out of a strong belief in value pluralism or out of respect for the
autonomy and dignity of persons. Horton and Nicholson (1992, 3) strongly stress
that tolerance is always based on such morally praiseworthy reasons:
Not just any choice to refrain from interference seems enough for toleration.
There may be many reasons for noninterference such as indolence or cowardice
which are quite distinct from, and sometimes antithetical to, toleration. In short
we need to know the reasons for noninterference in order to identify something
specifically as an instance of toleration.
This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire. Instead, it originally appeared in ‘The Friends of
Voltaire’ (1906), written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym Stephen G. Tallentyre.
Tolerance: A Virtue? 49
In what follows, we want to argue against this view by stressing that purely
pragmatic reasons can motivate tolerance as well.
IV. Reframing Tolerance
The distinction between two types of tolerance implies that Horton’s definition
of tolerance can be interpreted in two ways. According to a first, narrow
interpretation, a person is tolerant if he (1) disapproves of some practice, (2) has the
power to interfere but (3) has overriding moral reasons for refraining from such
interference. According to a second, broad interpretation, an individual is tolerant if
he (1) disapproves of some practice, (2) has the power to interfere but (3) has
overriding reasons for refraining from such interference (whatever these may be).
How does the conception of tolerance as a virtue fit into this scheme? Does it
require moral reasons for tolerance? At first sight it does not, in the sense that a
virtue is a disposition to act in certain appropriate ways (depending on the
circumstances). It is a character trait in that it is firmly entrenched in the agent’s
character. The tolerant person would be somebody who acts appropriately without
balancing costs and benefits, but from a moral habit. Nevertheless, the virtue of
tolerance rests on some important assumptions (Van Tongeren 2003, 114-115). It
requires that we put our values in perspective, i.e. that we do not hold them to be
absolute. For that reason it is a modern virtue—entirely absent in Aristotle’s
writings. As such, the virtue of tolerance presupposes a belief in pluralism and
human fallibility. In general, Aristotelian terms, one can say that the virtues of
character presuppose phronèsis, an intellectual virtue (Van Tongeren 2003, 65).
Only with these assumptions in place can tolerance ever be appropriate. Those who
tolerate for different reasons are not properly thought of as virtuous or tolerant.
Now let us return to both definitions of tolerance. While both are valid ways of
understanding tolerance, we want to argue in favour of the broad definition and
reveal a number of problems with the narrow alternative. First, the broad definition
reframes the concept of tolerance in descriptive, that is, morally neutral terms. This
allows us to avoid the normative paradox mentioned at the outset that arises from
systematically assuming that “toleration is right and the tolerator is good”
(Nicholson 1985, 160). Forst (2001, 195) aptly summarizes the paradoxical
implication of such a narrow definition of tolerance: “if both the reasons for
objection and the reasons for acceptance are called ‘moral,’ the paradox arises that it
seems to be morally right or even morally demanded to tolerate what is morally
In our view, Horton and Nicholson fail to separate two distinct issues. When identifying the
abovementioned “types of moral argument for toleration” (Horton & Nicholson 1992, 4), they are
focusing on the issue why tolerance in some cases is desirable or valuable. Here, they refer to ethical
theories like utilitarianism and liberalism that try to argue why tolerance in these circumstances is a
moral duty or ideal. However, they fallaciously apply these criteria to the level of the individual who has
to make up his mind whether he will interfere or tolerate some practice. The fact that tolerance is indeed
desirable or valuable from a societal point of view because of the abovementioned reasons does not
imply that people should base their actions on these reasons in order to be tolerant. Even though scoring a
goal in a soccer match is good for the team because it earns championship points, a player may have less
noble reasons for doing so (like impressing the female spectators).
50 Thomas Nys and Bart Engelen
wrong”. If one does not stipulate that the reasons for tolerance should necessarily be
moral in nature, the paradox simply disappears.
Second, the broad definition better fits the general meaning of tolerance as it is
used in everyday language. Not a single dictionary entry for tolerance stipulates
conditions with respect to possible reasons for doing so. The narrow definition and
its implied exclusion of pragmatic tolerance thus cannot be sustained. Instead, we
want to stress that both pragmatic and moral reasons can legitimately motivate
tolerance. Consequently, we side with authors like Crick (1971) and King (1971)
against the conception of toleration as a moral ideal.
Third, adherents of the narrow definition face a practical difficulty. How is one
to decide whether a particular act of tolerance is based on moral rather than
pragmatic reasons? After all, it is hard to distinguish between both sorts of reasons
in concrete cases. Take the example of an individual who refrains from interfering
with the conduct of homosexuals. Although his decision to refrain may well be
inspired by a form of impartial moral reasoning in which values like autonomy and
respect for others are deemed more important than his own sense of uneasiness with
homosexuals, it may well turn out that, on a deeper level, he refrains from action
simply because he is too afraid to take a stand. Another example is the person who
lets things pass for the sake of peaceful coexistence: is this based on some noble
form of impartial reasoning or on more mundane considerations like self-
The crucial point is that it is difficult to assess which reasons actually move a
person to action. This problem is quite akin to the Kantian difference between
actions from duty and actions that are merely in conformity with the moral law.
Kant admits that an individual’s true motives are not only obscure to those who
observe his behaviour from the outside (third person perspective), but also to the
person himself (first person perspective). Proponents of the narrow interpretation
should be prepared to accept this obscurity. Of course, they could easily do so, but
then tolerance, although it is conceptually clear, might become something that is
very difficult to detect in reality. In the end, genuine cases of tolerance based
exclusively on impartial considerations might actually be very sparse.
Fourth, the broad definition has the advantage of making it possible to induce
people to be tolerant, even if they have not accepted overriding moral reasons
themselves. Our penal system allows punishing people if they cross the line.
Therefore, society sends a message that they will be punished if they would choose
to do so. Increasing the costs of plain intolerance effectively provides citizens with
pragmatic reasons for letting things pass even when there is something at stake for
them, i.e. something they care about. This way of ‘stimulating’ tolerance does not
render citizens completely unable to interfere but rather makes citizens take into
One can also ask whether the practice that is tolerated is morally justifiable or not. In short, we believe
that it is intuitively clear that it is possible for an individual to tolerate things that are considered morally
wrong by any standard. Blatant cases of pedophilia, for example, should never be tolerated. This provides
an additional argument to conceive of tolerance in descriptive, morally neutral terms (Crick 1971; King
1971). However, since we want to avoid normative questions regarding the limits of tolerance (what
should be tolerated and what not), we want to leave this issue aside.
Tolerance: A Virtue? 51
account the potential costs of doing so. While gay-bashing is still an option, they are
not free to do so without taking the blame.
It becomes clear, however, that tolerance is often a second-best solution. We
believe that, in a number of circumstances, it would be better if there were no initial
sense of rejection at all. Ideally, one should move beyond tolerance in that this
feeling should not merely be overridden by other considerations but should be
erased completely. The point here is that people sometimes disapprove of something
that—according to widely acknowledged standards—is not to be disapproved at all.
In such cases, we should not emphasize the value of tolerance—as theorists who
conceive of tolerance as virtuous or good would do—but rather say that people
should come to recognize each other’s values as valuable and not as things that they
deem objectionable. Later on, we will return to this claim that people do not want to
be tolerated for the sake of overriding reasons; they demand recognition and respect
for their values and practices as such.
In this respect, we want to stress that tolerance is not always desirable or good,
even when it is based on morally praiseworthy reasons. Once more, take the case of
homosexuality. One should come to see that homosexual relationships are valuable
as such, and not just by an appeal to abstract rights. The idea that homosexuality is
okay only because it fits a person’s right to self-determination, is “one thought too
many” (Williams 1981, 18). The initial sense of rejection should (eventually) make
way for appreciation or acceptance. Moreover, even those who are indifferent
towards the issue, i.e. who do not understand what all the fuss is about, are often
deemed more praiseworthy than those who are able to restrain their unsympathetic
feelings. All this makes clear that the ‘virtue of tolerance’ falls short as an ideal.
It should by now be clear that theorists in the field face the dilemma of choosing
between both definitions. If, on the one hand, they want to think of tolerance as
virtuous or good, they should embrace the narrow definition, according to which
tolerance is always based on morally praiseworthy reasons. If, on the other hand,
they accept the broad interpretation and label the pragmatic person tolerant as well,
they can no longer conceive of tolerance as virtuous, morally desirable or good.
Bringing together the disadvantages of the former position and the advantages of the
latter position, we believe that the burden of proof shifts to those who think of
tolerance as an inherently normative concept. In their view, tolerance is a virtue and
thus morally good, because it is defined as allowing for the right practices in the
right circumstances and for the right reasons. Leaving aside the question whether
this way of explaining the goodness of tolerance by referring to the goodness of the
reasons for tolerating begs the question or not, we believe it faces a number of
serious problems that have to be addressed explicitly by those who want to think of
tolerance as a virtue.
V. Conclusion
This might be compared to what Fletcher calls “the instability of tolerance” (Fletcher 1996, 171): an
attitude of tolerance always tends to tilt to legitimate rejection (and hence plain intolerance), indifference,
or acceptance.
52 Thomas Nys and Bart Engelen
We have argued that it does not matter which reasons lead an individual to
refrain from acting upon his sense of rejection towards a certain practice. This holds
not only from a conceptual point of view, but also from a societal point of view. In
the end, what matters is that citizens conform to the norms and laws that prevail in
the society they live in. Except for plain intolerance, the categories described above
all have the same outcome of non-interference. A purely ‘behavioural’ definition of
tolerance, which stresses a person’s hands-off attitude towards practices in which he
does not engage himself, might be useful from a societal point of view. Still, we
believe Horton’s broad definition of toleration, which includes the requirement of a
sense of rejection, remains useful. After all, it avoids the counter-intuitive
conclusion that even people who don’t care at all are tolerant.
Let us return to the initial problem of how a person could ever allow for that
which he sincerely objects to. Here, one might suggest that his overriding reason for
self-restraint is perhaps best understood as a desire to honour his values rather than
promote them. Such an attitude of honouring means that he is personally committed
to certain values and practices but that he does not necessarily want others to uphold
them as well (Pettit 1991, 230-231). Instead of continuously proselytising, like the
plainly intolerant person does, he lets his actions exemplify his personal values.
Such a person is satisfied with living by his own standards and does not want to
impose them on others. For example, he might go to church every Sunday without
actively urging or persuading others to do so as well (and without taking action
against those who fail to go to Sunday Mass). This would explain why a person who
takes his values seriously nevertheless doesn’t react against practices that go against
However, as we have already suggested, one can legitimately ask whether such
tolerance is able to pass normative scrutiny from the perspective of both the
tolerator (“Should we merely honour our values or should we put our foot down?”)
as well as the person who is tolerated (“Do we want to be tolerated merely because
their values only need the respect of honouring?”). People do not want to be
respected as mere placeholders of values. To be respected as a person is to be
respected in one’s identity. And since this identity is constituted by the things one
cares about (Shoemaker 2003, 112), people seek recognition for those things that
are dear to them. Hence it is questionable whether a strategy of putting the
differences ‘behind closed doors’ and making them the object of private interests is
a morally praiseworthy strategy.
While a narrow definition of tolerance as a virtuous attitude that is based
exclusively on moral considerations overriding one’s initial sense of rejection is still
possible, we favour a broader definition that no longer stipulates that such
considerations should be moral. This way of reframing the concept of tolerance in
descriptive terms goes against the grain of recent literature in which tolerance is
generally understood as a virtue.
Consider, for example, Scanlon (1996, 235): “if toleration is to make any sense (…) we must
distinguish between one’s attitude towards what is advocated by one’s opponents and one’s attitude
toward those opponents themselves: it is not that their point of view is entitled to be represented but that
they (…) are entitled to be heard”. Our claim is that such a clear distinction is problematic.
Tolerance: A Virtue? 53
The authors are thankful for the financial support they received from the Research
Foundation – Flanders (Belgium). Further, they would like to thank Prof. Antoon
Vandevelde, Yvonne Denier, Sylvie Loriaux and, especially, Joris Van Damme for
their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
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... Is it a morally desirable character trait that is univocally good and that we should therefore foster and cultivate systematically, particularly in liberal societies (e.g., Byrne 2011, 287)? One way of being tough on the concept of tolerance is by claiming that it is not a virtue(Engelen and Nys 2008), thereby withholding it the precious label of something that is always good. But the reason for doing so could be emblematic for a different sense of toughness: the idea that we ...
... Our Original Analysis: Why Tolerance Is Not a VirtueOur original analysis(Engelen and Nys 2008) started from what we considered to be the best available definition of tolerance, namely that by John Horton: "the deliberate decision to refrain from prohibiting, hindering or otherwise coercively interfering ...
THE PALGRAVE HANDBOOK OF TOLERATION aims to provide a comprehensive presentation of toleration as the foundational idea associated with engagement with diversity. This handbook is intended to provide an authoritative exposition of contemporary accounts of toleration, the central justifications used to advance it, a presentation of the different concepts most commonly associated with it (e.g. respect, recognition) as well as the discussion of the many problems dominating the controversies on toleration at both the theoretical or practical level. The Palgrave Handbook of Toleration is aimed as a resource for a global scholarly audience looking for either a detailed presentation of major accounts of toleration, the most important conceptual issues associated with toleration and the many problems dividing either scholars, policy-makers or practitione
... The same goes for the sixth chapter on Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, a part of which has been published in Engelen (2008b). While not addressing the main themes of this dissertation, the other articles (Engelen 2007a;2007d;2008a;Engelen & Nys 2008) all address some of its topics in one way or another. ...
... As Buchanan has shown, political philosophers often defend a bifurcated image of individuals, who are modeled as egoistic within the private unacceptable while having the power to do something about it. Such a broad definition, which does not stipulate which reasons one may have for deciding to tolerate what one deems wrong, goes against the grain of recent literature in which tolerance is generally understood as inherently virtuous (Engelen & Nys 2008). realm of the market and as public-spirited within the public realm of the state. ...
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In mijn proefschrift onderzoek ik hoe een wenselijke institutionele basisstructuur eruit ziet voor een moderne samenleving van rationele individuen. Ik probeer te verduidelijken welke normatieve implicaties afgeleid kunnen worden uit de notie van rationaliteit. In het eerste deel van mijn proefschrift analyseer ik wat de notie van rationaliteit precies inhoudt. Ik vertrek hierbij van de dominante economische conceptie van rationaliteit die gebaseerd is op het conventionele Homo Economicus model. Economisch rationele individuen hebben steeds als doel hun eigenbelang te maximeren op basis van een kosten-batenanalyse van de verschillende alternatieven. Hun handelingen worden geanalyseerd als intentioneel gericht op de maximalisering van consistente, transitieve, volledige, continue, exogeen gegeven en egoïstische preferenties en gebaseerd op consistente en perfect geïnformeerde overtuigingen. Ik bekritiseer dit model enerzijds als empirisch inadequaat en anderzijds als een ongepaste basis voor een goed begrip van rationaliteit. Ten eerste blijken handelingen vaak niet intentioneel gericht op het doel van een maximale preferentievervulling. Bovendien zijn overtuigingen vaak gebaseerd op onvolledige informatie en zijn preferentie-ordeningen inconsistent, intransitief, onvolledig, lexicografisch en aan verandering onderhevig. Ten tweede blijkt dan ook dat bepaalde voorwaarden binnen de economische conceptie te veeleisend zijn om van rationaliteit te spreken. Zo argumenteer ik dat rationele handelingen niet noodzakelijk instrumenteel gericht zijn op een maximale preferentievervulling. Eveneens te veeleisend zijn de voorwaarden dat overtuigingen perfect geïnformeerd moeten zijn en dat preferenties volledig, continue, exogeen gegeven en egoïstisch moeten zijn. Door deze voorwaarden te schrappen, evolueert men van een economische naar een minimale conceptie van rationaliteit, waar enkel de notie van redenen centraal staat. Omdat dit echter erg formeel blijft, introduceer ik vervolgens opnieuw meer veeleisende voorwaarden. De alternatieve concepties die op die manier ontstaan stellen dat rationaliteit zich niet beperkt tot de keuze van middelen in functie van bepaalde doelen, maar ook gaat over meer substantiële keuzes zoals de invulling van deze doelen zelf. De brede conceptie van rationaliteit stelt dat de redenen voor een handeling goede redenen moeten zijn. Meer bepaald dienen overtuigingen goed geïnformeerd en preferenties autonoom te zijn. De expressieve conceptie van rationaliteit stelt dat handelingen, overtuigingen en preferenties rationeel zijn als ze uitdrukking geven aan de dingen waar men om geeft. De eis dat men zich moet kunnen identificeren met de eigen redenen toont dat rationaliteit een kwestie is van een reflexieve en kritische afstand ten aanzien van de eigen bundel van preferenties. Al deze concepties zijn bovendien gebaseerd op het inzicht dat overtuigingen en preferenties die door sociale, culturele en institutionele invloeden gevormd worden niet noodzakelijk irrationeel zijn. In het tweede deel van mijn proefschrift pas ik de verschillende concepties van rationaliteit toe op individuele keuzes in de context van grootschalige verkiezingen. In eerste instantie analyseer ik hoe het Homo Economicus model verklaart waarom mensen al dan niet gaan stemmen en op wie ze stemmen. Hier blijkt dat economisch rationele mensen niet zullen gaan stemmen, omdat dit hen niet in staat stelt hun doelen te realiseren. Eén stem heeft namelijk slechts een verwaarloosbare invloed op de uiteindelijke verkiezingsuitslag. Om deze stemparadox op te lossen argumenteren economen vervolgens dat mensen enkel stemmen omwille van het plezier dat deze handeling zelf oplevert, ongeacht de uiteindelijke uitslag. Het probleem is dat deze theorie dan weer niet verklaart op wie mensen stemmen. Op beide vlakken doet de expressieve conceptie van rationaliteit het heel wat beter. Mensen die zichzelf beschouwen als goede burgers (of geven om een bepaalde politieke ideologie) hebben een goede reden om dit uit te drukken door te gaan stemmen (voor een bepaalde kandidaat of partij). Dit geeft bovendien een adequater beeld van de onderliggende redenen waarom mensen stemmen zoals ze dat doen. In een context waar één enkel individu geen impact heeft op de uitkomst is het perfect rationeel om uiting te geven aan bepaalde principes, engagementen en loyaliteiten, zonder al te zeer de gevolgen hiervan in rekening te nemen. De expressieve conceptie begrijpt dan ook de rationaliteit van electorale keuzes zonder deze te interpreteren in een louter instrumenteel kader. In het derde deel van mijn proefschrift ga ik dieper in op de normatieve implicaties van de verschillende concepties van rationaliteit. Meer bepaald behandel ik er de vraag hoe de institutionele basisstructuur van een samenleving van rationele individuen eruit moet zien. Cruciaal in dit opzicht is het argument dat zulke normatieve kwesties afhangen van het gehanteerde mensbeeld. Auteurs die uitgaan van een economisch model komen tot andere conclusies dan auteurs die meer de nadruk leggen op alternatieve concepties van rationaliteit. In mijn ogen dienen voorstellen tot het ontwerpen en hervormen van instituties steeds gebaseerd te zijn op adequate modellen van de leden van de samenleving in kwestie. Op die manier kan men komen tot een realistische utopie, waarin men de mensen neemt zoals ze zijn en de instituties en regels zoals ze kunnen en moeten zijn. Deze gedachtegang staat haaks op de conventionele strategie van economen om institutionele hervormingen te baseren op de tegenfeitelijke veronderstelling dat mensen doorgaans economisch rationeel zijn. Om te begrijpen wat de normatieve implicaties zijn van de economische conceptie van rationaliteit concentreer ik mij op het werk van James Buchanan, grondlegger van de publieke keuze theorie waar economisch concepten en modellen toegepast worden op het publieke domein. Ik toon aan op welke manier Buchanans theorie van constitutionele keuze voor een bepaalde institutionele basisstructuur gebaseerd is op de centrale assumpties van economische rationaliteit. Vanuit de veronderstelling dat individuen steeds streven naar maximale preferentievervulling argumenteert hij voor een centrale rol voor de vrije markt, aangezien deze in staat is uiteenlopende belangen spontaan te coördineren. Bovendien waarschuwt Buchanan voor een al te omvattende staat die het onvermijdelijke gevolg is als men politici en ambtenaren onbeperkt hun eigenbelang laat nastreven. Hij pleit dan ook voor strikte constitutionele beperkingen die de staat binnen haar minimale grenzen houdt. Ik toon vervolgens aan dat Buchanan zelf reeds op verschillende plaatsen suggereert dat de economische conceptie onvoldoende en zelfs ongepast is om de rationaliteit van heel wat handelingen en redenen te vatten. Ik probeer vervolgens te doen wat hij zelf nalaat, namelijk het verder doordenken van zijn eigen amenderingen van het conventionele Homo Economicus model. Het alternatieve mensbeeld dat op die manier ontstaat is echter niet enkel van belang op theoretisch vlak, maar heeft ook belangrijke normatieve implicaties. Het feit dat heel wat individuen niet zo economisch rationeel zijn als Buchanan veronderstelt opent bijvoorbeeld heel wat mogelijkheden voor meer ingrijpende overheidsinterventies met het oog op de voorziening van publieke goederen. Niet alleen raken burgers het namelijk makkelijker eens over de noodzaak hiervan, ook kan men expressief rationele politici en ambtenaren beter vertrouwen op dit vlak. Als alternatief voor Buchanans al te eenzijdige nadruk op economische rationaliteit op individueel vlak en diens marktgerichte conclusies op institutioneel vlak, analyseer ik het werk van Samuel Bowles en Herbert Gintis. Deze analytisch marxisten wijzen op een aantal handelingen en redenen die onmogelijk binnen het Homo Economicus model begrepen kunnen worden. Centraal hierbij staat de notie van sterke reciprociteit, die wijst op de wijdverspreide neiging van mensen om prosociaal gedrag te belonen en antisociaal gedrag te bestraffen, zelfs als dit kostelijk is voor henzelf. Dit fenomeen toont de relevantie aan van sociale normen van reciprociteit, coöperatie en fairness in het reguleren van sociale interacties. De onvermijdelijke conclusie op theoretisch vlak is dat het Homo Economicus model best aangevuld wordt met dat van de Homo Reciprocans, hetgeen op heel wat vlakken aansluit bij de expressieve conceptie van rationaliteit. Bovendien zijn de uitkomsten van zulke normgeleide handelingen vaak wenselijk, aangezien ze mensen in staat stellen om op spontane basis onderling samen te werken zonder dat hiervoor een dwingend en kostelijk overheidsapparaat nodig is. Op die manier wordt duidelijk dat het conventionele debat tussen voorstanders van de markt enerzijds en de staat anderzijds, dat eveneens de achtergrond vormt van Buchanans theorie, een blinde vlek heeft. Meer bepaald heeft men er onvoldoende aandacht voor het belang en de wenselijkheid van informele gemeenschappen van mensen die handelen op basis van gedeelde normen. Verder toon ik aan dat Buchanans waardering van de werking van markten niet altijd gerechtvaardigd is, vooral aangezien deze op langere termijn kunnen leiden tot een meer uitgesproken egoïstische reflex bij de leden van een samenleving. Uiteindelijk leiden de inzichten van Bowles en Gintis tot een genuanceerde verdediging van een institutionele basisstructuur waar markten, overheden en gemeenschappen elkaar wederzijds aanvullen en versterken. In het besluit van mijn dissertatie druk ik mijn optimisme uit aangaande het nut van de politieke filosofie en de capaciteit van mensen om de instituties die hun leven reguleren te ontwerpen en te hervormen ten goede. De amenderingen van en alternatieven voor het conventionele Homo Economicus model laten mij toe de nadruk te leggen op de mogelijkheid en wenselijkheid van spontaan prosociaal, coöperatief en collectief gedrag. Op die manier vermijdt men de doorgaans pessimistische conclusies die voortkomen uit de economische conceptie van rationaliteit. I aim to analyze in this dissertation what a desirable basic institutional structure looks like from the perspective of rationality. While the main topic is thus normative in nature, I start by clarifying in the first part what the notion of rationality exactly entails. I do so by focusing explicitly on the economic conception of rationality, according to which a rational individual is motivated to serve his self-interest on the basis of cost-benefit calculations. Such a Homo Economicus is characterized by his intentional and instrumental actions, his perfectly informed beliefs and his exogenously given and egoistic preferences. In my view, however, this model is inadequate if one aims to understand what it means to be rational. The requirements that actions should be instrumental, beliefs should be based on perfect information and preferences should be exogenously given and egoistic in nature turn out to be overly demanding in this respect. That is why I propose to drop these assumptions in what I label the minimal conception of rationality. Since the latter turns out to be very formal indeed, I propose two further alternatives, which focus not so much on the choice of means to achieve certain goals, as they focus on the choice of these goals themselves. According to the first, broad conception, actions are rational if they are based on good reasons, which are further qualified as well-informed beliefs and autonomous preferences. According to the second, expressive conception, actions, beliefs and preferences are rational if they express the things the individual at hand cares about. The latter requires that individuals can reflect upon and identify with their reasons, which implies a capacity to reflect upon and distance themselves from their own bundle of preferences. In the second part of this dissertation, I try to show the value and limitations of these conceptions by applying them to the context of large-scaled elections. In this respect, it becomes immediately clear that the economic conception fails to explain why quite a lot of people go out and vote. After all, since a single vote has only an infinitesimal impact on the electoral result, it does not enable people to serve their interests or realize their goals. This leads to the so-called voting paradox, according to which no rational individual will decide to vote. The standard solution is to assume that individuals vote because they derive satisfaction from the very act itself. However, this strategy is rather ‘ad hoc’ and does not explain how people vote once they find themselves inside the voting booth. The expressive conception of rationality does better in this respect. It suggests that people vote because they care about democracy in general or about a specific political candidate or ideology. Since they conceive of themselves as being a good citizen (or a good socialist), they express this aspect of their identity by going out to vote (for the socialist party). In the third part of this dissertation, I analyze more fully the normative implications of the different conceptions of rationality. More specifically, I try to answer the question which basic institutional structure is desirable if one assumes that people are by and large rational. This immediately shows that both the normative issue (what should institutions look like) and the explanatory issue (how do rational individuals act) are closely connected. In my view, proposals regarding institutional design and reform should be based on empirically adequate models of individual actions and motivations. This search for a realistic utopia goes against the conventional strategy of most economists. They rely on the Homo Economicus model, even if this fails to explain individual behavior. To explain more fully what the normative implications are of the counterfactual assumption that all people are economically rational, I focus on the work of James Buchanan. In his theory of constitutional choice, he argues in favor of a minimal state whose only task is to make sure that the market functions properly. Buchanan thus favors strict constitutional limitations for governments, which tend to expand beyond legitimate borders as soon as politicians and public servants are allowed to serve their own interests. In my view, however, the abovementioned criticisms of the Homo Economicus model have theoretical as well as normative implications. After all, the empirically supported fact that a majority of individuals does not act in economically rational ways creates more room for legitimate government intervention. Expressively rational citizens will, for example, more easily agree on the necessity and desirability of a collective provision of certain public goods. In addition, expressively rational politicians and public servants can be more easily trusted to serve the public interest rather than their narrowly defined self-interest. As an alternative to Buchanan’s one-sided focus on economic rationality (at the individual level) and the market (at the institutional level), I focus on the work of Samuel Bowles en Herbert Gintis. More specifically, I explore their work on the phenomenon of strong reciprocity, which refers to the widespread tendency of people to reward prosocial behavior and punish antisocial behavior, even if this is costly for themselves. Since this is clearly economically irrational, Bowles and Gintis propose to complement the Homo Economicus model with the Homo Reciprocans model. This model, which comes close to the expressive conception of rationality, is able to incorporate the insight that social norms surrounding reciprocity, cooperation and fairness are crucial in regulating interactions. At the normative level, Bowles and Gintis stress that such norms often lead to socially desirable outcomes, since they enable people to live in harmony without relying on coercive and costly government interventions. This suggests that the debate between proponents of the market on the one hand and the state on the other hand neglects the importance of communities where people spontaneously interact on the basis of generally prosocial norms. As such, the insights of Bowles and Gintis lead to a defense of a basic institutional structure in which markets, states and communities mutually complement and reinforce each other. They also justify a general optimism as regards to the capacity and motivation of people to try and improve the rules and institutions that govern their everyday lives. OE Centr. Ethiek, Soc. & Pol. Filosofie Hoger Instituut voor Wijsbegeerte Hoger instituut voor Wijsbegeerte Doctoral thesis Doctoraatsthesis
... This value refers to the behaviour of human beings who are open-minded, patient and forgive easily value other people's opinions and help fellow human beings to avoid getting into arguments that may cause disputes and misunderstandings with other people irrespective of their tribe, race and religion (Musling et al., 2020;Engelen & Nys, 2008). Among the ayats that explain the concept of this value are asy-Syuura (42:43), al-Imraan (3:133, 134, 159), al-Jaathiyah (45:14), an-Nur (24:22) dan at-Taghaabun (64:14): - ...
... Ketika suatu perbedaan terjadi, dan ia menganggap itu tidak penting lalu mengabaikannya, bukan berarti ia telah mentoleransi kondisi tersebut, tetapi lebih pada bahwa ia tidak menganggap penting perbedaan tersebut. Kedua karakteristik ini sangat penting untuk memahami makna toleransi yang sebenarnya.Sementara Engelen & Nys, (2008), menggunakan konsep Horton dalam menjelaskan toleransi. Menurutnya ada tiga situasi orang dikatakan toleran,yaitu (1) mengalami tindakan atau situasi tidak menyenangkan (keberatan), (2), memiliki sarana untuk menghentikan perilaku tersebut, dan (3) tidak melakukan apa-apa (menahan diri). ...
... 5) Peace -Harmony between different social groups that are characterised by no violence or conflicts, and are free from fears of violence (Yaakob & Moris, 2019). 6) Tolerance -Openness, compromise, patience and forgiving are attitudes that would prevent a person from starting arguments that would result in conflicts and misunderstandings with others (Engelen & Nys, 2008). ...
... «e 1 erate decision to refrain from proh1b1tmg, hmdermg or otherwise coercively interfering with the conduct of which one disapproves, although one has the power to do so" Engelen and Nys (2008) the idea of tolerance is emanated morality. If political realis~ is given priority to morality, then tolerance might be challenged. ...
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The emotion and dedication of Mujib towards Bangladesh have been reflected by this quotation. The year 2020 is the year of birth centenary of Mujibur Rahman. The people of Bangladesh are celebrating the birth centenary of the father of the nation. He was a leader with a difference with an inclusive outlook. Bangladesh got its independence in 1971 after fighting against Pakistan with the help of India. Just after independence, the founding Father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the first head of the state. He introduced a multi-party system with secular ideology in Bangladesh. He was in power only for three and a half years. His party, Awami League was most powerful and popular during that time because the emotion of Bangladeshi nationalism was flourished by this party. After the brutal killing of Mujibor Rahman, the pro-Pakistani force came into power, spread Islamic fundamentalism, and gradually ruined the secular forces. The anti-independence and anti-national forces that seized power after his brutal killing on 15th August 1975 have since then unleashed a campaign of lies and vilification about Bangabandhu and his government. Bangabandhu’s Government achieved commendable success in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged nation. As a charismatic leader, he never denied the demands of minorities. Through an accommodative policy, he heartily tried to ensure social harmony. During his short tenure, he emphasized an electoral system. He was aware of the motives of pro-Pakistani forces in Bangladesh. Although, during his time, except for left political parties there was no such type of active or powerful party in Bangladesh that could be the competitor of the Awami League. Just after independence, like the Indian National Congress, in Bangladesh, there was a monopoly of the Awami League. It is also true that the centralized and personality-based Awami League did some wrong activities. Within a very short time, against a few of the regional leaders, a strong allegation was raised. However, the pioneer of electoral politics of Bangladesh, Mujibur Raman had made the base of an electoral democratic system through proper constitutionalism. This chapter intends to critically investigate the relevance of Mujibur’s vision and program amid the crisis of the electoral system in Bangladesh.
... In Arabic refers to tasāmuḥ which means soften and easiness [4]. Hence, tolerance means a deliberate decision to refrain from prohibiting, hindering or otherwise coercively interfering with conduct of which one disapproves, although one has power to do so [5,6,7,8]. ...
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This paper investigates how Islamic tolerance contributes to solve religious conflict today that has impacted on various aspects such as economic collapse, insecurity in life, lack of professional society, academic retrogressions, and so on. Knowledge of these issues has become an urgent to build a community that is full of peace, harmony and unity. The paper suggests that Quranic views on tolerance should be understood and practiced in order to avoid disunity in society which is due to failure to appreciate tolerance values in association. The paper concludes problems or misunderstandings always occur in different religious societies, since every religion has its own teachings and principles, as well as each of them is interpreted in different ways.
Explores the meaning and role of toleration in various contexts from a philosophical point of view. Contributions range from toleration in personal relationships to its role within history. It also looks at toleration in academic argument, multi-cultural education and international relations.
In modern society, problems of toleration arise most often and most obviously in connection with racial, religious or sexual matters: in Britain, the Brixton disorders of 1981 were held to be both a symptom and a consequence of a deeply embedded racial intolerance. Reporting on the disorders, Lord Scarman remarked; ‘All the evidence I have received, both on the subject of racial disadvantage and more generally, suggests that racialism and discrimination against black people — often hidden, sometimes unconscious — remain a major source of social tension and conflict’ (Scarman, 1986, p.172). Racial intolerance and discrimination, whilst not identified as the direct cause of disorder, were held to be important social conditions serving to create a disposition towards violent protest of the sort which flared in Brixton on the weekend of 10–12 April 1981. Members of the black community attributed their poverty and deprivation to racial discrimination and, as Scarman puts it; ‘once you have deprivation and once minorities perceive that they are at the end of every queue, then race heats up the furnace of anger to an unbearable temperature’ (pp.xiv–xv).
This 1988 volume is a collection of thirteen seminal essays on ethics, free will, and the philosophy of mind. The essays deal with such central topics as freedom of the will, moral responsibility, the concept of a person, the structure of the will, the nature of action, the constitution of the self, and the theory of personal ideals. By focusing on the distinctive nature of human freedom, Professor Frankfurt is able to explore fundamental problems of what it is to be a person and of what one should care about in life.
L'A. met en evidence la relation entre la tolerance pratiquee par les politiques liberales et la tolerance exercee au sein de petites communautes. Definissant la tolerance comme vertu publique et vertu personnelle, l'A. montre que l'amitie est un modele normatif de la disposition a une interpetation charitable des differences, d'une part, mais que l'ideal liberal d'impartialite laisse entier le caractere paradoxal de la tolerance, d'autre part.
It seems that we can't speak about intolerance without first speaking about tolerance. This paper argues that we should think in the opposite direction. Before conceptualising tolerance we must first tackle the issue of intolerance and indifference. I propose to think of intolerance not as a privation of tolerance but as the expression of an original attitude. Two kinds of intolerance are distinguished. Next to the intolerance which is interwoven with the vulnerability of what Martha Nussbaum calls 'external goods', there are excessive forms of intolerance like fanaticism. This article focuses on a paradigmatic case of the first form of intolerance This ambivalent case is analysed in close connection with phenomena like defilement, pollution and blasphemy. Special attention is paid to the crucial role of seemingly unimportant rituals of excuse, marks of honour and gestures of respect and deference. In the last part I try to show how some forms of zealous fanaticism can be related to the first kind of intolerance. Fanaticism and indifference are thought of as two extreme ways of dealing with the vulnerability ofthe things we care about. By way of conclusion I sketch a model in which the relations between intolerance, indifference, fanaticism and tolerance are pictured.