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Demosthenes's avatar

Is being tolerant of intolerance a virtue?

Asked by Demosthenes (14977points) November 25th, 2022

Related to my previous question about “culture”:

“Tolerance” is often used as a kind of gotcha. Someone will express distaste for something and the response will be “ah, see, you’re actually intolerant even though you claim to be so tolerant”. What does it actually mean to be “tolerant”? Is tolerance passively accepting something? Is it approving something? Is it not being outwardly hostile toward something but not saying anything as to whether you approve or agree with something?

Do you claim to be “tolerant” overall, as a general principle? Is tolerance something we should aspire to, even if it means tolerating things we find morally wrong? To what extent? How do we resolve the “tolerance of intolerance” paradox?

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23 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I am tolerant of much, but I am viciously intolerant of hate and bigotry in all forms. I don’t care a fig what others think of that. I see no paradox in that.

RayaHope's avatar

I will never “tolerate” something I find morally wrong and I don’t see how anyone possibly could. I believe in what I believe but I can and have changed my beliefs in light of new evidence and proofs. An opened mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

I’m tolerant to a point. I think the thing you’re driving at is people preach tolerance, virtue signal the hell out of it but when someone disagrees with them, especially with something minor and they ostracize that person they’re not really being tolerant. It’s like openly declaring moral bankruptcy. Example: “We preach tolerance and accept everyone, except if your idea of tolerance is different than ours, then fuck off.” That’s the argument anyway. Seen plenty of that in my short life.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Blackwater_Park Yes, that is part of what I’m getting at. It’s the main reason why I don’t preach tolerance. I, for example, don’t tolerate homophobia. It’s not an “alternative opinion” that I’m open-minded about and accepting of. I’m openly disdainful of it and hostile toward it. It wouldn’t be accurate to simply say that I’m “tolerant”. But people say they’re “tolerant” because, like you said, it’s virtue signaling. It sounds good; it sounds like what people want to hear. I’d rather more of us were honest about our moral positions and not “open-minded except when we’re not”. More to that point, I don’t think being neutral and unprincipled about something is necessarily a virtue.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@Demosthenes That’s the way people need to be IMO. There is no middle ground on some things that fall under the warm, fuzzy, feel-good “tolerance” umbrella. It’s a way for people with one opinion on something to declare they have the moral high ground on an issue or just in general. “we are the tolerant ones” with the implication that the other opinion or position is in the wrong. Wile it very well may be in the wrong, that little parlor trick is pretty pointless except for the most gullible/suggestible. For everyone else, it undermines credibility.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Germans were tolerant even when Hitler started a war and killed 6 million Jews !

JLoon's avatar

It’s an old question, and an old problem – But it’s still important to answer.

Plato pointed to it in The Republic, and philosophers trying to analyze the cause of the moral and spiritual wreckage leading to WWII called it the pradox of tolerance. Their answer is what we all struggle with today :

” We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

- Karl Popper, 1945

rebbel's avatar

@Tropical_Willie I think that’s an exaggeration.
And a generalisation.

HP's avatar

Tolerance can be either a virtue or a vice. It is of course a spectrum. There are extremes in either direction. Then there is the broad middle where tolerance overlaps mere preferences. List an item , slavery, loud metal music, sushi rotgut whiskey…. what do or will YOU tolerate? It of course will always be relative and every bit a matter of consensus.

Jons_Blond's avatar

No. One should never be tolerant of intolerance.

Blackberry's avatar

Too vague and depends on the situation. Trying to simplify such a vague idea isn’t going to accomplish anything.

seawulf575's avatar

I think tolerating something is not accepting it or considering it right. It is more like picking your battles. You may not like something but don’t necessarily feel like fighting about it. In your example of speaking out about something you find distasteful and then get the “gotcha” of being called intolerant, that is an entirely separate thing. What you have there is an attempt to guilt someone into not speaking. It is an effort to shutdown opposing opinions.

seawulf575's avatar

Oh! and in response to the question of whether I consider myself tolerant or not, I’d say that on the spectrum of tolerance, I’m a little on the “not-tolerant” side. I’ve lived long enough to see what happens with too much tolerance and don’t have a problem voicing opinions about things I don’t like. I have set standards for myself and apply these to my world. When something happens of someone enters into my life that people say I should tolerate, I apply those standards to the situation. If it seems wrong in my world view, I say it. Not a lot of filter left here.

canidmajor's avatar

The phrase “…tolerant of intolerance…” is just a cheap semantic trick often used by bigots to justify their annoyance at being held accountable for their ridiculous, and often harmful (and sometimes fatal), attitudes and actions against other humans.

No, it is not a virtue to tolerate the inhumane treatment of anyone.

Kropotkin's avatar

There’s no paradox.

Everyone has some heuristic which filters things into the acceptable and unacceptable.

There’s opinions on this forum that I don’t like and have frequently argued against, for example.

Some opinions and actions are so bad that even violence would be justified. The way anti-fascists sometimes oppose fascism, for example.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Blackberry I get that my questions are uncomfortable for you. I consider that an achievement.

Blackberry's avatar

Uhm…they really aren’t….they are just vague.
“What’s your favorite music?”
“Kinda vague, depends on my mood, where I am etc.”
“I’m making you uncomfortable! What an achievement!”

See how silly that looks?

raum's avatar

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”


Response moderated (Flame-Bait)
kritiper's avatar

If it is, then ignorance is also a virtue.

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Demosthenes's avatar

@Blackberry There are several other questions in the details that you are free to answer if you find the main question too “vague”. Other users did not have a problem with it. It is not my fault that you cannot answer it as it is, but I add those other questions because there is rarely only one idea I want to discuss around a topic and there are several here I am interested in. If you have nothing to contribute, then I suggest you move on to another question and let those who want to answer it and discuss this topic do so.

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