The Culture of Toleration in Diverse Societies: Reasonable Toleration

By Mckinnon Catriona; Dario Castiglione | Go to book overview

4
Toleration, justice and reason

Rainer Forst

In contemporary debates about the idea and the problems of a multicultural society the concept of toleration plays a major but by no means clear and uncontested role. For some, it is a desirable state of mutual respect or esteem, while for others it is at best a pragmatic and at worst a repressive relation between persons or groups.

In the following, I want to suggest an understanding of toleration that both explains and avoids these ambiguities. First, I distinguish between a general concept and various more specific conceptions of toleration.1 This brief discussion shows that the concept of toleration is marked by two paradoxes that a conception of toleration should be able to resolve. On that basis, four paradigmatic conceptions of toleration are outlined, but I argue in favour of one of them, the 'respect conception', on normative grounds, while subsequently I draw out its epistemological implications. The central thesis that I put forward is that toleration is a virtue of justice and a demand of reason. The conclusion takes up again the two paradoxes mentioned at the beginning and how they are solved by the conception I propose.


The concept of toleration and its paradoxes

The general concept of toleration should be explained by six characteristics, which I shall briefly outline below.

(1) First, there is always a particular 'context of toleration'. This refers, on the one hand, to the relation between the tolerator and the tolerated: for instance, between parents and children, between friends, between members of a religious community, between citizens, and even between 'strangers', who share none of these more specific contexts. Depending on these contexts, the reasons for toleration and for its limits can differ. On the other hand, the question arises as to whether the subjects of toleration are individuals or groups or 'the state', as well as whether the objects of toleration are practices, single acts, or beliefs, to name just a few possibilities.

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