Volume 41, 1998
Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community
The liberal principle of tolerance limits the use of coercion by a commitment to the broadest possible toleration of rival religious and moral conceptions of the worthy way of life. While accepting the communitarian insight that moral thought is necessarily rooted in a social self with conceptions of the good, I argue that this does not undermine liberal tolerance. There is no thickly detailed way of life so embedded in our self-conceptions that liberal neutrality is blocked at the level of reflection. This holds true for us in virtue of the socially acquired reflective self found in the pluralist modern world. I reject Michael J. Sandel’s argument that to resolve issues of privacy rights we must reach a shared view of the moral worth of, for instance, homosexual conduct. The view of community most consistent with our situation is a simple causal conception: we are all members of the same community to the extent that we inhabit the same world of causes, physical and social. Any attempt to call us to some thicker, stronger conception of community fails to speak to us in our modernity.