12. The Difficulty of Tolerance

Publication Date Dec 31, 1998


WHAT IS TOLERANCE? Tolerance requires us to accept people and permit their practices even when we strongly disapprove of them. Tolerance thus involves an attitude that is intermediate between wholehearted acceptance and unrestrained opposition. This intermediate status makes tolerance a puzzling attitude. There are certain things, such as murder, that ought not be tolerated. There are limits to what we are able to do to prevent these things from happening, but we need not restrain ourselves out of tolerance for these actions as expressions of the perpetrators' values. In other cases, where our feelings of opposition or disapproval should properly be reined in, it would be better if we were to get rid of these feelings altogether. If we are moved by racial or ethnic prejudice, for example, the preferred remedy is not merely to tolerate those whom we abhor but to stop abhorring people just because they look different or come from a different background. Perhaps everything would, ideally, fall into one or the other of these two classes. Except where wholehearted disapproval and opposition are appropriate, as in the case of murder, it would be best if the feelings that generate conflict and disagreement could be eliminated altogether. Tolerance, as an attitude that requires us to hold in check certain feelings of opposition and disapproval, would then be just a second best – a way of dealing with attitudes that we would be better off without but that are, unfortunately, ineliminable.


Feelings Of Opposition Preferred Remedy WHAT IS Ethnic Prejudice Racial Prejudice Intermediate Status

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