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Key terms, thinkers and arguments associated with questions of tolerance, the value of tolerance and problems with tolerance.


The act of tolerating something. A disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior. Willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others.


Unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinions or beliefs. A lack of acceptance of another person's opinions, beliefs, or actions.

Rainer Forst

Argued there are 3 components to tolerance, objection, acceptance and rejection.

Essentially contested

A concept is essentially contested if it is constinually scrutinised and the subject of intractable disputes about how to interpret it.

Conceptions of tolerance

Gallie argued there are four practical levels of tolerance: permission conception, co-existence conception, respect conception and esteem conception.

Paradoxes of toleration

The apparent contradictions that arise from attempts to reconcile reasons for objecting to, accepting and rejecting beliefs and practices.

John Rawls

Argued we should tolerate illiberal beliefs but not the actions/practices that stem from these beliefs as such actions are at odds with a liberal society. I.e. one could be prejudice (thought) but not discriminate (action) based on that prejudice.

Karl Popper

Defended liberalism, tolerance and wrote 'the Open Society.' Argued rational argument should be used to challenge intolerant opinions and individuals, however accepted that we should not tolerate intolerance that threatened tolerance or could not be combated with rational argument I.e. Islamic fundamentalism.

Open society

a society that allows its members considerable freedom (as in a democracy). Society where the gov. is claimed to be responsive and tolerant and there are no secrets, the state does not control or supervise citizens who all have freedom of speech.


a feeling of anger caused by being offended.

The harm principle

The principle, defended by John Stuart Mill and others, that we should be allowed to do whatever we want unless our actions harm or threaten harm to others.

John Stuart Mill

liberal thinker who believed that freedom and liberty comes from individualism. If the government makes all the decisions regarding freedoms then they aren't really free, and there is tyranny of majority.

Herbert Marcuse

Fused thoughts of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Introduced the concept of repressive desublimation (social control can operate not only by direct control, but by manipulation of desire). Analyzed the role of propaganda.

Repressive desublimation

The process whereby something seen as sublime and valuable I.e. love, is replaced by something else I.e. sex, or lust, which devalues human relationships and prevents genuine fulfilment.

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