Essays — Tolerance Means Dialogues

Essay about Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community

3324 Words
14 Pages

Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community

ABSTRACT: The liberal principle of tolerance limits the use of coercion by a commitment to the broadest possible toleration of rival religious and moral conceptions of the worthy way of life. While accepting the communitarian insight that moral thought is necessarily rooted in a social self with conceptions of the good, I argue that this does not undermine liberal tolerance. There is no thickly detailed way of life so embedded in our self-conceptions that liberal neutrality is blocked at the level of reflection. This holds true for us in virtue of the socially acquired reflective self found in the pluralist modern world. I reject Michael J. Sandel’s argument that to resolve issues of privacy rights

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In exercising this role, sometimes fine distinctions will need to be made, and there is room for worry that in the guise of peace-keeping the state will really work to promote a favored vision of the worthy way of life. Still, this liberal principle tells us what to worry about in such controversies, though its abstractness means that by itself it cannot deal with difficult issues. However, the principle of tolerance does not even abstractly address questions about property rights and the distribution of wealth, so here the liberal tradition includes opposing approaches.

The principle of tolerance is, if not the only thing liberals share, at least a touchstone of liberalism. Tolerance can be defended pragmatically, as a mode of living together justified simply by its success.(1) Or it can be given a basis in critical morality, in differing ways depending upon the particular critical stance of the defender. Both autonomy-based approaches and welfare-based approaches are found. I think that the approach of H.L.A. Hart is most helpful, for it proceeds critically but without appealing to some one grand foundational theory. Hart defends tolerance by placing the burden of moral argument on those who favor coercion—since coercion, as both an infringement of autonomy and a source of misery, is morally wrong unless there is a special justification. He then argues that in cases

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