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TitleCivil Disagreement: Personal Integrity in a Pluralistic Society
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: Conversations and Arguments
	States of Nature
	Convictions, Commitments, and Integrity
	Uses of Conversation
	Four Types of Claims
	Conversations and Arguments
Chapter Two: Conflicts and Pluralisms
	Reasonable Pluralism
	Value Pluralism
	Religious Pluralism
	Perspective Pluralism
	Pluralism and Other Isms
Chapter Three: Toleration and Respect
	Toleration and Tolerance
	History of Toleration
	Justifications: Prudence and Principle
	Cooperation and Compromise
	Variations on Civil Disagreement
Chapter Four: Laws and Dissenters
	Civil Disagreement about Legislating Laws
	Accommodating Dissenters
Chapter Five: Civil Disagreement: Conclusion
Works Cited
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Civil Disagreement

Page 90

79Toleration and Respect

thin lines and mere matters of degree between persuasion, indoctrination,
manipulation, and brainwashing. If we say that any effort at changing a per-
son’s mind through rational persuasion is intolerance of their beliefs, I think
we stretch the meaning too far, and we risk making education a matter of in-
tolerance rather than liberation. One can claim that truth is intolerant of error1
without implying that trying to teach the truth is being intolerant toward an-
other’s holding a wrong belief. As long as one uses acceptable pedagogy, one
that respects intellectual freedom, it seems counterintuitive to classify teaching
as intolerance toward beliefs or believings. But if someone wants to say that
teachers are intolerant of ignorance, I would not so much object as point out
that we at least need to distinguish acceptable pedagogies from overly coercive
ones, as well as from manipulation and brainwashing.

In short, though there may be senses in which we tolerate persons and
their believings, the usual objects of toleration and intolerance are the behav-
iors and practices resulting from persons’ acting on their beliefs.2 For example,
today in most of our societies, debate over freedom of thought is largely debate
over freedom of speech.

Not Indifference

John Stuart Mill claimed that intolerance comes naturally to people on things
that they care about. In fact, he claimed that intoleration comes so naturally
that religious toleration is realized only when “religious indifference . . . has
added its weight to the scale.”3 One difficulty with evaluating this claim is that
there are many behavioral overlaps between toleration and indifference. If I
simply leave you alone to worship as you please, you might not be sure whether
I am enduring something I find disagreeable or whether I just do not care about
how you worship. In spite of this overlap, Mill does notice the distinction. It
may be easier for you to tolerate my strange religious practices when you care
only a little about such matters, but if you could not care less about them you
are hardly enduring them—you are more likely ignoring them or are merely
curious about them. Some philosophers go so far as to say that you cannot be
tolerant about something unless you are inclined or tempted not to be4; I claim
only that you must find it disagreeable, though the degree of discontent can
range quite widely—from mild discomfort to shocked abhorrence.

Must the discontent involve some degree of moral disapproval? There is
debate about this issue. Some writers seem to claim that we cannot tolerate
actions that we regard as morally wrong,5 whereas others suggest that tolera-
tion applies only to matters involving moral disapproval.6 Perhaps both sides
are right, depending on the culture; it has been remarked that the genius of
American politics is to treat matters of principle as if they were merely con-
flicts of interest, whereas the genius of French politics is to treat even conflicts
of interests as if they were matters of principle.7 However, I agree with those
who argue that we probably cannot draw a sharp line between what we dislike

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80 Chapter Three

and what we disapprove8 and that, in any case, the issue of toleration can arise
whenever there is disagreement about any matters regarded as important, be
they mores or morals. The point to underscore is that toleration is to be sharply
distinguished from indifference. Toleration involves refraining from trying to
prevent something that is disagreeable, something that one cares about.

Not Resignation

If we are unable to stop something, it seems a stretch to say that we are tolerat-
ing it; we do not tolerate earthquakes, we resign ourselves to their inevitability
and to our powerlessness at stopping them. To tolerate something is to refrain
from using power in an effort to prevent it; to decide to refrain from using that
power, we must believe we have it, that we could do something about prevent-
ing what we are instead tolerating. Sometimes we may not have the power to
prevent it directly; a single individual cannot do much about people smoking
in restaurants. But individuals can work to get laws passed that would man-
date others—the police—to use direct power to prevent it. To promote mak-
ing something illegal is indirect rather than direct intolerance, but it is real

Of course, sometimes we may decide that we could prevent something,
directly or indirectly, but that the prevention would come at too high a price, as
when we decide that wiping out all crime would require something too close to
a police state. Hence we begrudgingly tolerate a certain level of wrongdoing. In
1968, NATO decided not to risk nuclear war by militarily intervening when the
Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. The Western powers reluctantly decided
to tolerate the invasion, given the cost of doing otherwise. One might object to
the use of “tolerate” here, since NATO said that the invasion was intolerable (as
we might say of even a low level of crime), though it quickly added that it would
rely on diplomatic opposition rather than military power.

Two questions emerge at this point. First, does it make sense to talk about
our putting up with something “intolerable,” when we could stop it at a cost we
think is too high? We sometimes talk about intolerable pain for the terminally
ill, for example, when they in fact endure it, perhaps because illegal mercy kill-
ing would come at too high a cost. I think clarity is enhanced by our saying that
if we put up with something that we could directly or indirectly prevent, we are
tolerating it. When the toleration is due to our decision that intolerance would
come at too high a cost (and risk of a great harm is a cost), it means only that
our toleration is reluctant, that it comes with regret or even guilt feelings, not
that it is something other than toleration. There may be good rhetorical reasons
for the Western powers to say that the Soviet invasion was “intolerable.” But, in
my suggested sense of the term, they reluctantly tolerated it; if there was resig-
nation, it was not to helplessness or inevitability but to the wisdom of caution.9

The second question is whether we should distinguish levels or types of in-
tolerance. Perhaps rhetorical opposition is a type of intolerance, even when one

Page 180


values necessary for,

volatility of, 120
Socrates, 19, 56–57,

68n27, 96n1
“Sola Scriptura,” 27n40
solidarity, 134n4
Sorensen, Kelly, 138n37

exclusivism, 46
space, types of, 37
special interest groups, 111
speech, 7–8. See also

language; words
freedom of, 8, 79, 88

stalemate, 145
stances, 10, 26n33, 90–93,

state. See also democracy;

governments; laws
legal power of, 108
separation from church,

86, 112
statements. See claims
states of nature, 1–3
Staub, Ervin, 27n38
Stout, Jeffrey, 74n58
strangers, avoidance of, 3
strong (ontological)

pluralism, 65n14
Stubbe, Henry, 98n28
stupidity, 34, 143
subjectivism, 45, 53, 58
Surowiecki, James, 134n6
sympathy, 90, 101n43,

102n53, 103n55
syncretism, 47

Tasaday, 1–2
tastes, 4, 60, 97n8

artistic, 2
taxation and taxes, 109,

119, 138n42
Taylor, Charles, 24n19,

Taylor, Paul, 26n35
teaching, 85, 97n11. See

also education

teamwork, 92
teleology, 38–39
terminology, clarification

of, 10–13
terrorism, 5, 14, 61, 146
theological claims, 117
theology, empirical mode,

theory selection, criteria

for, 26n28
Thompson, Dennis,

Thoreau, Henry, 119
threats, 97n11
Tillich, Paul, 68n26
timidity, 82–83, 91, 98n16

distinguished, 78

tolerance, 77–85,

defined, 85, 98n16
liberal, 85

tolerant, 85
toleration, 77–85, 107,

144. See also

appropriate, 38, 62, 82
approval distinguished,

arrogance distinguished,

attitude combinations in,

cooperation and

compromise in,
90–93, 107

defined, 85
disposition toward,

history of, 85–87


of intolerance, 100n39
justifications and, 87–90
legal, 96, 104–5n59
objects of, 78–79
paradox of, 89–90

political, 133n1
principled, 82, 91, 98n21
prudential, 98n21
refusal of, 6
religious, 46, 79, 85,

98n28, 99n25,
114, 115


respect and, 93–94, 127
silent, 82, 98n16
social, 107, 133n1
spectrum of, 84
teaching, 85
timidity distinguished,

uncertainty and, 89,

Tolstoy, Leo, 34
tradition, 98n30
transformation as

religious goal,

tribalism, 23n11
Trigg, Roger, 135n20

certainty of, 121
intolerance of error,

79, 96n1
of premises, 28n44
relativism of, 50, 60,

61, 144
relativity of, 74n58
single, 58

consensus and, 8
moral, 5
objective, 60, 71n41
plurality of, 50
revelation of, 46
saving, 47
scientific, 5
universal, 5

Twiss, Sumner, 69n36

uncertainty, 89, 94,
101n41, 104n58

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170 Index

understanding, as purpose
of inquiry, 20,

Universal Declaration of
Human Rights
(United Nations),
125, 129–30,


“us-them” mentality,

utilitarianism, 39–40, 59,

utopias, 2

vagueness, 11, 36
value claims, 13–15

explanations and

value conflicts, 75n59
value fragmentation.

See moral

value judgments, 13. See
also value claims

value nihilism, 53
value pluralism, 4, 25n19,

38–45, 53, 57
goodness in, 31
immorality in, 74n56
moral complexities

and, 60
value systems, nature

of, 39
values, 8

absolute, 62
communitarian, 99n24
consensus, 107
covering, 45, 50, 62,

67n22, 67n23
hierarchy of, 38

incommensurability of,
43–45, 66n20,

incommensurable, 43
inculcation of, 132
intrinsic, 44
liberal, 125–26, 145
minimal, 75n59
moral, 8, 42–43
nonmoral, 59–60, 74n56
objective, 62
ranking, 36–37, 42–43,

43–44, 109
realms of, 14
rejection of liberal, 123
shared, 93
in western civilization,

values fragmentation.

See moral

van Fraassen, Bas, 26n33,

vanity, 23n14
verification, indirect,

vice, 1

accurate description
of, 17

moral, 14, 27n36
violence, 121
virtues, 28n41, 38

civic, 123
tolerance as, 98n16

voice, 7
voting, 138n40
vulnerability, 119, 138n41

Walzer, Michael, 59
war, 1

civil, 27n38
just, 146n5

weak (epistemological)
pluralism, 65n14

weasel words, 15
Weithman, Paul, 98n16,

137n30, 138n38,

welfare principle,

welfare rights, 129, 134n4
whistleblowing, 95
Whitman, Walt, 32
wickedness, 34
Wisconsin v. Yoder, 124,

wisdom, practical, 58
witness, bearing, 96n1
Wittgenstein, Ludwig,

Wolterstorff, Nicholas,

63n4, 70n38,
100n36, 136n21,
137n27, 137n33

women, 131, 139n53. See
also girls

contextual thinking by,

oppression of, 3
prostitution of, 4
rights of, 146n6

words. See also language;

ambiguity in, 11
weasel, 15

worldviews, 26n33, 63n5,

becoming complicit in,

competing obligations

and, 59, 73–74n55
tolerable, 89
toleration of, 80

wrongs, opposing, 7

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