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John Grimm on Defining Tolerance

Toleration can best be understood … as not using force or advocating the use of force against those who hold ideas and beliefs or who engage in practices that one thinks are wrong but which do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others. This classical liberal type of toleration shows proper respect for people as reasoning beings able to reach their own conclusions about the nature of the world and the most appropriate way to live and organize their lives. Recognition of another person’s right to his own thoughts and beliefs is also an essential foundation of civil discourse. ¶ So that we do not unwittingly go down the path of soft relativism or the tyranny of political correctness, it is important to recognize that toleration does not mean that we must be indifferent to, respect in a deep way, or be compelled to accept any belief or practice. In a free society, the sphere of ethical and scientific debate should be quite broad as people wrestle with questions about the proper way to live and the nature of justice. This means that — like goods and services in the economic marketplace — ideas and practices have to compete and be subject to robust criticism. If we have the confidence of our convictions, we should be open to vigorous challenge about the best ways of living consistent with our individual and societal flourishing. And we should be able to challenge others as we grope together towards truth.


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