Digest of terms

toleration

a contested concept with numerous ramifications.

Construed negatively toleration means reluctantly putting up with people and acquiescing in practices that one dislikes or disapproves of. It is a form of compromise in which one refrains from possible and perhaps desired discrimination, motivated perhaps by acknowledgment of rights (human, civil) granted to those being tolerated, or simply because one prizes the resultant coexistence or peace above the alternative social strife or disharmony.

Construed positively toleration may mean displaying respect for others as people, despite radical disagreement concerning some fundamental issues (and, it may be, negative toleration of their views or practices). Alternatively it may mean a willingness to respect others' beliefs, values and practices themselves, motivated perhaps by a readiness to recognize some value in the resultant moral and religious diversity, either for its own sake (pluralism, multiculturalism), or as a means of reducing prejudice, or as a way of exploring the possibilities of a richer and more rounded society.

Explicit regard for tolerance as a virtue in its own right is generally thought to have originated, at least in the West, as a reaction to the European 'wars of religion' triggered by the Reformation, and to have been closely connected with the rise of liberalism. Relatedly, the charge has been levelled at the Christian and Muslim religions in particular of having fostered intolerance through their traditional condemnation of unbelievers (heaven and hell, judgment). Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions, by contrast, have tended to be praised for their general ethos of tolerance.

Supporters of tolerance as a virtue agree that there have to be some limits to its exercise - some things are intolerable - but disagree concerning where these limits lie. (liberty-limiting principles). They would generally resist the view that tolerance is a careless indifference to the content of different beliefs.

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