When we decide to tolerate an action or a practice, we decide to forego an opportunity to interfere in some instance of that activity or practice. Many of the fellows and students at Christ Church college, Oxford, do not like the steady stream of tourists looking though their college groundsâ€”and collectively, at least, they are in a position to stop it. However, they decide not to exercise this power. They decide to put up with or tolerate tourism. In order for their inaction to count as a genuine instance of toleration, however, they must find tourism in the college grounds objectionable. If they did not find it objectionable then their attitude would be one of indifference or approval, and we do not use the terms tolerationâ€˜ and â€—toleranceâ€˜5 to describe cases where inaction is the result of indifference or approval (Williams 1996, p. 20). An attitude of tolerance is only possible when some action or practice is objectionable to us, but we have overriding reasons to allow that action or practice to take place. An exception to this generalization concerns a secondary sense of the term â€—toleranceâ€˜. We are said to develop a tolerance of aspirin or caffeine when, typically through heavy use, we become less affected by aspirin or caffeine. In this usage â€—toleranceâ€˜ is synonymous with â€—insensitivityâ€˜ and no negative judgment concerning the use of caffeine or aspirin need be implied. In a third sense, â€—toleranceâ€˜ refers to a character trait or virtue that an agent may have or may strive to acquire. Possession of the virtue of tolerance makes one more disposed to perform acts of toleration (in the primary sense) than one would be otherwise. Unsurprisingly, those who are the beneficiaries of the tolerant (in the primary sense of the term) attitude of others do not always appreciate the implicit disapproval that is implied by the fact that they (or their behaviour) are tolerated by others.6 For example, homosexual activist groups have sometimes objected to the implied disapproval delivered by the various churches that claim to â€—tolerateâ€˜ homosexuality. They argue that homosexuals are deserving of a greater degree of respect than toleration implies (Jakobsen and Pellegrini ) Perhaps the most sophisticated of the various attempts to define toleration is due to Andrew Cohen. According to him: An act of toleration is an agentâ€˜s intentional and principled refraining from interfering with an opposed other (or their behaviour, etc.) in situations of diversity, where the agent believes she has the power to interfere. If the agent has not considered refraining from interference, or has considered it and does not intend to refrain from interference, then that agentâ€˜s action cannot be described as tolerant. Only inaction that is intended can count as toleration. The stipulation that a lack of interference must also be principled is included to rule out unprincipled non-interference, or interference that is explained by some motive that one did not endorse as a value. I might disapprove of an action and believe that it ought not to take place, but if I fail to act to try to stop it because I am merely lazy then we would not describe my attitude as one of toleration (unless, perhaps, I endorse laziness as a value). My non-interference must be grounded on some sort of principle, although not necessarily a moral one, to count as tolerance.Non-interference is central to tolerance, but this should not be understood too broadly. The non-interference involved in toleration is direct non-interference in acts and practices. It need not imply indirect non-interference in acts and practices. A devout Catholic may decide to tolerate Protestant religious practices in her community and to not interfere in the conduct of Protestant religious services, despite her disapproval of these. However, she may feel that the attitude of tolerance that she displays does not extend to refraining from proselytizing on behalf of...
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