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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Forms of Tolerance

In the previous post the term "tolerance" was used in a positive way. In other words to be tolerant of the religious expression of others is a positive thing. Indeed Krauthammer was referring to this form of tolerance when he quoted a 1790 letter George Washington wrote to the Newport synagogue, "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.'' In this sense toleration means an acceptance of another's point of view and a recognition of their right to hold to that position even if you think it mistaken. That is the view our pastor called social tolerance last weekend.

However, in our present culture there is another and more malevolent form of tolerance he referred to as epistemological tolerance. In practice this is actually the inverse of social tolerance and is construed to mean that unless you praise and actively support a view contrary to your own you are not being truly tolerant. In this form it is not enough to respect the rights of others to hold a view that is in logical contradiction to your own (e.g. as a belief in reincarnation is contradicted by a belief in bodily resurrection), rather you must recognize that their belief is in some sense true for them. Hence the term epistemological - epistemology being the study of knowledge or truth. In the end epistemological tolerance is a denial that there is any absolute truth and why it is so dangerous.

2 comments:

unca said...

Actually, I don't think that "epistemological tolerance" as defined here is really "tolerance" at all -- it's really acceptance which is quite different. To be sure, it's still referred to as tolerance by the left so that we have no real defense against it without sounding as if we're not tolerant -- so it's a verbal slight-of-hand -- Rather like calling everybody who doesn't accept and acknowledge the validity of the homosexual lifestyle as "homophobic." By accepting the word, "tolerance" in the phrase, "epistemological tolerance," we're buying into the game. Rather, we should be protesting against the left's use of the word "tolerance" at all, to denote something that really goes well beyond.

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