The Difficulty of Tolerance: Essays in Political Philosophy

By T. M. Scanlon | Go to book overview
Save to active project


The essays collected here are concerned with the standards by which political, legal, and economic institutions should be assessed. One obvious standard is the degree to which these institutions promote human well-being. But it is also relevant to ask whether institutions are just and whether they respect the rights of individuals. The tension between these two forms of assessment is a central theme in these essays. In order to understand this tension, and decide how to respond to it, several things are required. The first is a better understanding of the idea of well-being and of the ways in which it comes to have moral significance. The second is a deeper understanding of notions such as rights, justice, liberty, and equality, which seem to be, at least potentially, in conflict with the goal of well-being. To what degree are these notions themselves best understood and justified in terms of well-being? Insofar as they are not to be understood in this way, how is their moral force to be explained? The following essays are devoted to these tasks. My aim is not to eliminate this tension—that would be impossible— but to make it less puzzling by placing the notions it involves within a common moral framework. In the case of rights, I believe that the tension is best understood not as arising between rights and well-being, seen as entirely independent and potentially conflicting moral ideas, but rather as a tension that arises within our understanding of rights themselves.

Freedom of expression provides a good example of this tension. The right of free expression would be easy to defend, but pointless, if it applied only to expression that has no serious consequences. It does its work, and our commitment to it is put to the test, by expression that threatens to cause serious harm by, for example, fomenting political unrest or by revealing information that is deemed crucial to national security. So some explanation needs to be given of how it can be wrong for governments to prevent these harms by barring the expression that will lead to them. In “A Theory of Freedom of Expression” (essay 1), I attempted to respond to this challenge. The central component of that article is what I called the


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Difficulty of Tolerance: Essays in Political Philosophy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 273

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?