The tolerant society

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Found in the work of John Locke.

Intolerance, in respect to peoples religious views is simply IRRATIONAL.

Even if you really believed you had the truth about your religion, it doesn't make sense to try and force others to believe you. The only worthwhile conversion was one freely entered into by another. Insincere conversion was thus useless to the person trying to do the converting and since we could not look into another person's mind we should give up on the use of force.


This particular argument for tolerance simply suggests force is impractical, not that it is wrong. Liberals are more in favour of tolerance itself rather than the concept that intolerance is just not pragmatic.

It also leaves open that whilst we might tolerate 'private' expressions of faith, we should persecute public expressions of alternative religions.

Will the public expression of a minority faith damage society???? Limitation of tolerance to extremely private would rob the concept of much meaning. Tolerance itself has to involve letting people express certain things.

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Social strife

If we are truly a pluralist society, (in this case, pluralism means different kinds of people with different attitudes and beliefs), we have tolerance as almost 'an agreement to differ' amongst the different groups. No group gives up our own rightness but all have to accept that they have no right to improve attitudes or values of each other.

How is it possible for these people to get along and coexist??? The state and the law should promote tolerance of difference, the 'Modus Vivendi', where they manage differences without conflict. Government and law should thus act as a kind of neutral referee, not favouring one way of life over another...

Closely associated with John Rawls.


Lead to loss of people in particular cultures and traditions? May make people less sure of the truths of their own beliefs. May also make people think that their values are only accidental as a result of being born in a particular time or place- thus leading to lessening of identifications with culture and rootlessness in individuals.

This scepticism is reinforced by the presence of state saying all traditions are equal and true in their own way, or perhaps all in a sense FALSE.

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Closely associated with John Stuart Mill. He claims that no matter how confident we are about our own views it remains possible we are in fact wrong. The best way, Mill sees, to search for truth is through open and free debate between defenders of different belief systems. This 'free market' for speech sharpens our eyes for good and not so good argument and thus leads us closer towards the truth.


Can free discussion really leave us towards the truth? How can we tolerate the views of a racist person? By allowing oxygen to such views we risk impressionable people thus believing thoughts that the most of us consider wrong.

Another problem lies with the chance of offending others. So if an ignorant person expresses their view of a particular racial group being inferior, is the right of that person more important than the rights of the people who would then be offended by it?

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Both Mill and Kant believe autonomy is a uniquely valuable aspect of human life, it makes it meaningful. It is possible people can come to different conclusions about what really matters. Mill envokes the importance of FREE SPEECH. Only in circumstances in which people could hear all evidence and all opinions could they then make free choices about how to live their lives as autonomous beings. The tolerant society is the autonomy promoting society and that automony is the basis of meaningful human existence!


First problem arises with 'subjectivism' (no marl truth and individuals moral 'taste' is just as valuable as anyone elses. The problem with this is that we then have no right to criticise any moral viewpoint of a person who thinks their taste is right and thus anyone who disgarees should then be killed!! We have no right or wrong, according to subjectivism, thus no basis to condemn views of intolerance.

Autonomy valuing liberals believe that right and wrong aren't a matter of taste!!! Autonomous life is the most valuable life and are willing to criticise values that don't recognise it as much.

This contradicts NEUTRALITY.

Neutrailty where the state would be neutral between different concepts of the good, but it is then criticised on grounds it amounts to the kind of corrosive scepiticism or relativism put forth by conservative or communitarian thinkers like McIntyre or Devlin. Autonomy says it knows what a meaningful life is like so any notion of neutrality has to be abandoned. 

Liberalism is morally imperialistic?? AVL's are prepared to wage intellectual war against tradition that fails to accept its core assumption of the value of autonomy- McIntyre.

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