Volume 11, Issue 1, 2019
Tolerance and its Limits
Principled Toleration and Respectful Indifference in the Liberal Polity
A Conceptual Landscape
This paper examines toleration at two levels. At the first level, liberal individualism is concerned that the individual must be as free as possible to pursue their own goals and lifestyles. At the second level, liberal political theory is concerned with the value of liberal political culture and institutions and how to maintain and protect them. I argue that we can learn a great deal about the exercise of toleration and respect at the level of the liberal polity by examining them at the level of the liberal individual. Both tolerance and intolerance at the level of the polity must be principled. Principled tolerance and intolerance have the following features. First, the judgment whether to tolerate a particular belief or practice must be based on the value of toleration itself, not pragmatic political requirements. Second, it should be an issue of setting aside moral principles and convictions rather than dislikes, prejudices or fears. Third, it should respect the distinction between the public and the private, and should only recognise an issue as one of toleration if there is a public impact at stake.