Essay on Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community

Essay on Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community

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Tolerance, Liberalism, and Community


ABSTRACT: 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.

Liberalism includes many views on many topics. I will confine my attention to the liberal principle of tolerance: the coercive powers of the society are limited by a commitment to the broadest toleration of rival religious and moral conceptions consistent with the protection of crucial social interests such as preventing harm to others and preserving institutions of law and government. The state is thus to be neutral in the religious and moral wars that rage over the point of human life and the detailed ways of life worthy of human beings; but, of course, the state must keep the peace between one ...


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...ral view as the sufficient definition of the principals [sic] of liberal democracy, this is not because I don't see its force. The political issue is, indeed, quite distinct from that of the nature of moral theory." Sources of the Self, p. 532, note 60.

(5) Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society, pp. 162-64, Sources of the Self, pp. 25-49, 73.

(6) Michael J. Sandel, "The Political Theory of the Procedural Republic," in Allan C. Hutchinson & Patrick Monahan, eds., The Rule of Law: Ideal or Ideology, Toronto: Carswell, 1987, pp. 90-91.

(7) Michael J. Sandel, "Moral Argument and Liberal Toleration: Abortion and Homosexuality," 77 California Law Review 521 (1989), 533-38.

(8) Ronald Dworkin, Law's Empire, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 167-75.

(9) W.H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays, New York: Vintage Books, 1968, p. 235.

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