What Is Toleration?

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. [...] We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

- Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and politics behind the idea of religious toleration. In 1763 Voltaire remarked that "of all religions, the Christian is undoubtedly that which should instil the greatest toleration, although so far the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men". Christian intolerance was brutally enforced across Western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Reformation, with inquisitions, executions, church courts and brandings with hot irons. But during the English Civil War a variety of Christian sects sprang up which challenged the imposition of state religion and opened the floodgates to religious diversity. What were the politics and philosophy behind the idea of toleration in England? Did the rise of toleration go hand in hand with the rise of the secular, or were tolerationists – in fact – deeply religious? And how does toleration differ from tolerance?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Toleration

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Short Article of the Day

...According to the conventional narrative, freedom of religion arose in the West in the wake of devastating wars fought over religion. It was catalysed by powerful arguments from thinkers such as John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire. These philosophers and political theorists responded to the brutality of the religious wars with support for radical notions of toleration and religious freedom. Their liberal ideals then became embedded in the political institutions of the West, following the American and French Revolutions.

In broad outline, such is the account accepted by most political philosophers and social scientists. But the evidence does not support this emphasis on the power of ideas in shaping the rise of religious freedom, and underestimates the decisive role played by institutions...

Continue reading Mark Koyama's article: Ideas were not enough

Further Reading

The term “toleration”—from the Latin tolerare: to put up with, countenance or suffer—generally refers to the conditional acceptance of or non-interference with beliefs, actions or practices that one considers to be wrong but still “tolerable,” such that they should not be prohibited or constrained. There are many contexts in which we speak of a person or an institution as being tolerant: parents tolerate certain behavior of their children, a friend tolerates the weaknesses of another, a monarch tolerates dissent, a church tolerates homosexuality, a state tolerates a minority religion, a society tolerates deviant behavior. Thus for any analysis of the motives and reasons for toleration, the relevant contexts need to be taken into account....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Toleration by Ranier Forst

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