What Is Tolerance, What Does It Mean?June 28, 2021
The socially distinctive feature of the liberal thought tradition, which gives freedom to individuals to live the good lifestyle they prefer, is that it accepts moral, cultural and political differences. The state’s understanding of impartiality and the aim of creating a society that respects personal autonomy without advocating for any good opens a space for individuals to express their differences, while making “tolerance” a moral and social principle.
Liberal interpretations of the concept of tolerance took shape in the work of writers such as John Milton and John Locke, especially in the 17th century with the aim of advocating religious freedom. However, it should not be thought that Milton and Locke’s definition of tolerance left its mark on the whole tradition. An analytical reading within the liberal tradition reveals two types of tolerance and, accordingly, two incompatible liberal understandings.
Liberalism, on the one hand, expresses the search for a universal life or the ideal of truth, on the other hand, it is the search for conditions of peace between different life styles (Tunçel, 2010, p. 54). From the first point of view, liberal theory sees universal principles as a guide for all humanity to live in peace and harmony. From this point of view, we can include John Locke, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and in the contemporary world John Rawls, the best life for humanity will be led by reason. These thinkers, who aim for a liberal-democratic culture based on human rights, also consider “tolerance” as a fundamental value that determines the behavior of individuals.
John Locke, who separates the private and public spaces with sharp lines, finds the guarantee of freedom in the private sphere, which is outside the domain of the state, where the public forces individuals to obey the law, in the concept of tolerance. In his letter titled A Letter on Tolerance, John Locke states that “(…) the spiritual well-being of every man belongs to him and should be left to him” (Locke 2005, p. 43), any moral action that can be done to the individual in private and social areas outside the realm of public obligation. refuses the intervention. Therefore, for Locke, tolerance is also a guarantee of negative freedom; it gives each individual a choice space where he can make his own moral choices through individual decisions.
Similar to Locke, John Stuart Mill considers tolerance as a condition of individual autonomy and thus morally self-development. However, John Stuart Mill, who reinterpreted the utilitarian views of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill to include society as well, sees the concept of tolerance as the basis for the development of societies as well as individuals. Mill’s belief in progress feeds hopes that humanity will gradually be able to break free from ignorance and reveal the truth in a competitive and competitive free market. In other words, a confrontational public sphere that includes differences brings with it social progress. According to Mill, the right of the individual to express his opinion is sacred even if he is defending an opinion against all humanity: “If all humanity except one person adopts an opinion and only one person has the opposite opinion; The justification of humanity silencing this person is no more than that when this person has power, he silences all humanity” (Mill 2004, p. 51). It should be noted that the idea of tolerance prevailing in both Locke and Mill share a belief that eventually all humanity can meet on a common and universal ground of truth. Similarly, Kant and Rawls tend to identify the principles that people can agree on about a common way of life.
The idea that all people can eventually establish a truth-based public space design, especially in the rational denominator of the Enlightenment, supports the search for the determination of these common principles. At this point, tolerance is the expression of a common value that can be reached after accepting the principles of the rationally designed public space. However, some other advocates of the liberal perspective consider the concept of tolerance as a project for the coexistence of different conceptions of the good (Gray 2000, p. 56). In the contemporary world, such an understanding of tolerance, which is included in the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, inspired by thinkers such as Will Kymlicka, Isaiah Berlin, and Michael Oakeshott, is the product of a liberal perspective where those who differ can live in peace without seeking common ground. In other words, from such a point of view, the good life can be expressed by a plurality of values rather than ethical principles. Against Locke’s assessment of tolerance as the path leading to a single belief, according to Hobbes and Hume, tolerance is not a means of reconciliation, but a prerequisite for peace. Achieving peace does not depend on uniting in a consensus, but on the stability of the balance and control mechanism that can be established between cultural values advocating different good lifestyles. It is seen as a solution especially for the problem of cultural pluralism of the contemporary world.