A Tolerant Society Would Accept Cultural Practices That It Finds Offensive - Discuss (Exam Question Notes)

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A tolerant society would accept cultural practices that it finds offensive. Discuss. (30 marks)

‘Tolerance’ implies permitting objectionable cultural expressions – unless society found the expression offensive then accepting it would not be tolerance, just indifference. Tolerating offensive cultural expressions is required by any society that claims to value autonomy. Respecting a person’s autonomy/right to choose over-rides the objection to what they choose.

Tolerance of ‘offensive’ cultural expressions is inseparable from a society adopting a value-neutral stance on the governance of civil society.

Insofar as the overall benefits of freedom of thought, discussion and action outweigh the costs of offence, utility recommends society tolerate cultural expressions it finds offensive.

A limit to what is tolerable might be expressed in terms of harm. There may be some discussion of what harm is and/or of what should be included. Conservatives might argue that apparently self-regarding acts might undermine the moral fabric of society: radicals might be concerned that certain things are repressive and socially/psychologically damaging.

The notion of ‘offence’ is ambiguous: whether or not something merely offends or causes harm is debatable and there is no value-neutral viewpoint from which we can decide where to draw the line between offence and harm.

In multicultural societies there are bound to be differences amongst us. Tolerance should be recommended on the basis of minimising strife. Such pragmatism might be associated with conservative positions.

Cultural expressions that undermine the values tolerance is supposed to protect and promote should not be tolerated in a tolerant society. This might be linked to either the moral paradox or the problem of imposing a limit: does a tolerant culture undermine itself by not taking a stand against cultural expressions it finds offensive?

If offence is allowed to count as harm, then is...
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