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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


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"Suppose you say to me, "Look, free exchange of ideas is just one more thing that we ought to tolerate; but that is not a reason to defend tolerance in general rather than intolerance.""

That would indeed be my response. Your rebuttal is that we require toleration for the space of inquiry that allows the possibility of attaining knowledge of what should be tolerated. The value assumptions embedded in here are that (a) it is morally good or required for a set of people to have a particular epistemic state - in this case genuine knowledge - of what should be tolerated and not tolerated, and (b) that this epistemic state is acquired through open inquiry, which requires toleration of diverging thoughts and opinion.

But these are both value claims that a proponent of "toleration" in itself could reject or, at least, interpret in importantly different ways. Starting with (b), why think that this desirable epistemic state is achieved through open inquiry rather than divine revelation or a close reading of a certain religious text, or some other method? And even if some type of inquiry is required, _who_ should be part of this inquiry? Anyone, or just a select group of people who have the correct basic guiding principles and beliefs that will keep them from going astray? It's clear that you want to include a lot of people in this community of inquirers who are tolerated. But why? Toleration itself doesn't require that, even if it does require (a) and (b). One could argue further that genuine knowledge rather than some other type of epistemic state is not morally required for beliefs about what should be tolerated, thus challenging (a). But even if you think that some genuine knowledge of this is required for toleration, this says nothing about whether this is only required for, say, one person who sets the rules for the state and gets his knowledge from divine revelation, or whether many people need to be able to obtain this knowledge.

So, again, it seems that the kind of toleration conditions that you want to defend against the left and the Islamists are actually rooted in specific value commitments that are distinct from toleration itself.

"In order to determine what is tolerable and what is not we must inquire, we must examine, we must canvass various options."

I agree. I would add that the traditional principle of toleration seems to require objective truth and objective (or at least universal) morality. If there is no objective falsehood and no objective (or at least universal) moral wrongness, then there is nothing significant to tolerate, nothing to examine, debate, compare, contrast, etc. And if persons are not of value and their rights to form their beliefs not important, then there would be no good reason to tolerate their views.

I would also add that that the 'tolerance' of normative moral relativism is problematic. For in NMR, tolerance (of any sort) is morally right in society A if it is part of the social code in A. But intolerance (of any sort) is morally right in society B if it is part of the social code in B. In NMR, 'tolerance' is merely custom, and "custom is king" -- as Pindar and Herodotus are said to have claimed.

Thanks, Elliot. I basically agree.

"we need a space in which there is the free exchange of ideas, a space that is possible only under the aegis of toleration, and not in the precincts of Islamic fundamentalism or Leftism."

But the kind of 'toleration' needed for the (valuable, useful, rational or truth-conducive) free exchange of ideas involves intolerance of some ideas, some people. For example, if there were no comment moderation on this blog, there might be hundreds of comments from hyper-ventilating Leftists accusing us of being Nazis and haters; there might be hundreds of comments from well-meaning but philosophically unsophisticated people who would persistently fail to grasp the host of principles and distinctions that all of us are taking granted. In order for our free exchange of ideas to facilitate inquiry or knowledge or mutual understanding, we have to exclude those kinds of comments and people.

Notice also that, in some Leftist or Muslim fundamentalist thread, all kinds of ideas and people would be tolerated that are not tolerated here. In some respects, the space of Leftist or Muslim fundamentalist discourse is more tolerant (or open or free) than ours. And in other respects, ours is more tolerant (or open or free) than theirs. So again it seems that the real issue is not tolerance or intolerance, but the specific kinds of tolerance and intolerance that we may justifiably endorse.

True, we need to inquire and consider views of others in order to figure out which specific kinds we ought to endorse; but even in doing *that* we have to start from some fairly specific range of views and arguments and values that we regard as being at least somewhat plausible. If we were tolerant of every conceivable view or argument or value system -- if we didn't simply reject many of them out of hand -- the inquiry could never get off the ground.


I agree that I am committed to something like your (a) and (b). You say some proponent of toleration might reject them. So what? I'm defending my concept of toleration, not his.

In addition, we cannot discuss (a) and (b) if I do not tolerate your dissent.

>>Starting with (b), why think that this desirable epistemic state is achieved through open inquiry rather than divine revelation or a close reading of a certain religious text, or some other method?<<

I am open to the possibility of divine revelation. But as you know there are competing 'revelations.' So we are thrown back upon our own resources: we must inquire into which of the putative revelations is the true one. In Christianity, the Trinity is a revealed truth, but in Islam it is not a truth at all. So we need to compare and contrast and study and examine. But for that to proceed we need access to the different holy books and the different theological and philosophical works.

But unless there is tolerance of opposing views we cannot make the comparative study.

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