Sunday, March 04, 2007

What Does "Tolerance" Mean?

I love this statement from a speech by Yale law professor Stephen Carter:

"When I use the word 'tolerance' I have in mind its traditional sense. We have a kind of casual and somewhat sloppy modern sense of the word that drains it of interesting moral content. This sloppy use of 'tolerance' is the one in which we say that, if you criticize my behavior or my ideas, you are being intolerant of me. In the old days, this was called 'disagreement,' and that is what we should call it today. 'Tolerance' in the traditional sense--let us say the Lockean sense--was more morally-robust on both sides of the matter. When Locke wrote of the need to tolerate religions other than officially-recognized Protestant Christianity, he had in mind a vision of tolerance almost like what we would now think of as the tolerance of the body for disease, the ability to include in the community a thing the community found unpleasant. His vision of tolerance did not in any sense place the thing being tolerated beyond criticism. This is why his vision is more morally-robust than ours. The larger society required to tolerate does not lose the moral faculty of judgment; and the dissenter, faced with criticism, develops the backbone to stand for unpopular ideas. . . . Criticism is not the same as intolerance."


Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

This is a good post, as usual, on the difference between tolerance and disagreement.

Thanks! Dee

P. S. Haven't seen you over at Finding Direction in a while. How are you doing there at the Bible Chair? Missing you!

Jim Martin said...

A very nice quote! A refreshing take on tolerence.