- This page is about "tolerance" as a social concept. For other uses and meanings please see physiological tolerance and tolerance in engineering.
Tolerance is a social, cultural and religious term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which one may not approve. Authoritarian systems practice the opposite of tolerance, intolerance. Tolerance is seen as a more widely acceptable term than "acceptance" and particularly "respect," where the application to controversial parties is concerned. Tolerance implies both the ability to punish and the conscious decision not to. It is usually applied to non-violent, consensual behavior, often involving religion, sex, or politics. It rarely permits violent behavior.
In the wider sociological sense, "tolerance" carries with it the understanding that "intolerance" and conformity breeds violence and social instability. "Tolerance" has thus become the social term of choice to define the practical rationale of permitting uncommon social practice and diversity. One only tolerates people who are disliked for their differences. While people deemed undesirable may be disapproved of, "tolerance" would require that the party or group in question be left undisturbed, physically or otherwise, and that criticism directed toward them be free of inflammatory or inciteful efforts.
Historically, religious tolerance has been the most important aspect of tolerance, since religions tend to be intolerant of each other, and religious intolerance has led to innumerable wars, purges and other atrocities. The philosophers and writers of the enlightenment, especially Voltaire and Lessing, promoted religious tolerance, and their influence is strongly felt in Western society (see pluralism). Nonetheless, the lack of religious tolerance causes problems in many regions of the world today.
However, the unattributed quote "there's only one thing I can't tolerate - and that's intolerance" illustrates that there are limits to tolerance. In particular, a tolerant society cannot tolerate intolerance, which would destroy it. It is difficult to strike a balance, however, and different societies do not always agree on the details. In some countries, the continuing suppression of Nazism in Germany is considered intolerant, for instance. Issues that may be controversial in various countries might include the separation of church and state, homosexuality, the consumption of tobacco, alcoholic beverages and other drugs, reading disapproved political tracts, and deviant sexual acts as well as the correct reaction to disorderly conduct and misdemeanours (see zero tolerance policy).
Tolerance as a virtue
As an Aristotelian virtue, tolerance is a middleground between softheadedness on the one hand (overtolerance) and narrow mindedness on the other (undertolerance).
Last updated: 10-13-2005 22:31:06