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Jonathan Wolff

MCK8 1/10/2003 10:29 AM Page 147 8 Social ethos and the dynamics of toleration Jonathan Wolff ‘The difficulty with toleration’, writes Bernard Williams, ‘is that it seems to be at once necessary and impossible.’1 Toleration is necessary if groups with fundamentally different and conflicting values and beliefs are to live in peace together, but, so it is said, prima facie impossible under such circumstances. Why so? The idea of toleration only seems appropriate when a conflict of values or beliefs goes so deep that groups may think that ‘they cannot accept

in The culture of toleration in diverse societies
Reasonable tolerance

The idea of toleration as the appropriate response to difference has been central to liberal thought since Locke. Although the subject has been widely and variously explored, there has been reluctance to acknowledge the new meaning that current debates offer on toleration. This book starts from a clear recognition of the new terms of the debate, reflecting the capacity of seeing the other's viewpoint, and the limited extent to which toleration can be granted. Theoretical statements on toleration posit at the same time its necessity in democratic societies, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal. There are several possible objections to, and ways of developing the ideal of, reasonable tolerance as advocated by John Rawls and by some other supporters of political liberalism. The first part of the book explores some of them. In some real-life conflicts, it is unclear on whom the burden of reasonableness may fall. This part discusses the reasonableness of pluralism, and general concept and various more specific conceptions of toleration. The forces of progressive politics have been divided into two camps: redistribution and recognition. The second part of the book is an attempt to explore the internal coherence of such a transformation when applied to different contexts. It argues that openness to others in discourse, and their treatment as free and equal, is part of a kind of reflexive toleration that pertains to public communication in the deliberative context. Social ethos, religious discrimination and education are discussed in connection with tolerance.