Tolerance, while proving necessary in today's varied world, can be grudgingly given and resentfully received. Toleration may be necessary, but it has little appeal, and certainly cannot serve as either a central or unifying doctrine in a thriving moral or political philosophy. A deeper understanding of what tolerance requires leads us to see that it demands more. Once we inculcate the attitude of tolerance in ourselves and our politics, tolerance can occupy the difficult and contested. It does not make sense, for instance, if we already fully accept a practice; nor does it make sense if what we are asked to tolerate is 'intolerable:' we appeal to those inclined to be intolerant to soften their judgement, to grant that what they disapprove can, and should be, permitted. What needs to be done is to show how tolerance is rooted in an appealing moral and political theory. Only then will toleration move beyond either simple expediency or grudging forbearance.
Hans Oberdiek is professor of philosophy at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.