APOLOGIA is a column in which I address issues having to do with faith, science, and ethics, and in which I try to use careful reasoning and evidence to seek what's true. Undoubtedly I will end up disagreeing with at least a few people. And probably I will make a mistake here and there. My hope is that I will show respect to those with whom I disagree, that I (and others) will learn from my mistakes, and that we'll get closer to what's true, good, and beautiful. - Hendrik van der Breggen
February 22, 2018
Hendrik van der Breggen The Carillon, February 22, 2018
“Be tolerant” is today’s oft-heard moral
imperative. This principle of tolerance sounds good, but careful thinkers
should ask: Is it sound?
No, and yes.
turns out that there are two senses of “tolerance.” Let’s call them Tolerance 1 and Tolerance 2.
(If my labels seem to lack imagination, blame Dr. Seuss.)
1 is the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance. On this understanding,
all views or identity claims and expressions are accepted as equal and true and
all interpretation” or “it's all perspective” or “it's all feeling” or “it's
who I am,” so a view/ identity/ expression may be “true for you, but not for
me” (and vice versa).
to Tolerance 1, you are intolerant if you disagree with someone’s ideas or
self-identity or self-expression/ conduct. To say someone is actually mistaken
or wrong violates Tolerance 1. Such intolerance is a “sin.”
sin or no sin, Tolerance 1 is false.
the point of view of reason and truth, it’s simply not the case that all ideas,
feelings, and expressions are equal.
about it. That the Holocaust occurred is true and well supported by evidence,
whereas the belief to the contrary is false and not well supported by evidence.
That a square has four sides is true logically, whereas a square having three
sides isn’t true logically.
about it some more. Western democracy is a better idea morally than Soviet communism
(because the former tends to respect the intrinsic moral worth of people
whereas the latter does not). Also, talking with one’s spouse to resolve a
dispute is a better idea morally than beating one’s spouse.
feelings can be mistaken. A woman who constantly feels she is—identifies
as—overweight when she actually isn't, and thus expresses her identity by dieting
to extreme, suffers from anorexia nervosa.
other words, Tolerance 1 is an epic fail.
consider Tolerance 2.
2 is the classic understanding of tolerance.
is the practice of forbearance toward persons who hold beliefs or engage in
conduct with which one strongly disagrees. (Forbearance involves patience and showing
respect to those with whom we disagree.)
2 is a willingness to accept a person’s right to espouse a view or express
themselves or engage in behaviour even though we think the idea is mistaken or
the conduct unwise or even immoral.
according to Tolerence 2, intolerance is not always a sin.
may be appropriately intolerant of an idea if the idea is truly false and can
be shown to be false, and we may be appropriately intolerant of a behavior if
the behavior is truly harmful to self or others and can be shown to be harmful
to self or others.
to Tolerance 2, teachers are appropriately intolerant of students cheating on
an exam or bullying on the playground. Also, judges are appropriately
intolerant of perjury, drunk drivers, and murderers. Also, citizens are
appropriately intolerant of governments that engage in deception.
addition, I dare say, parents are appropriately intolerant of educators who
claim (falsely) that the parents' child is actually the opposite sex. Why?
Because just as an anorexic's feelings are mistaken about being overweight, so
too a child's feelings can be mistaken about sexual identity.
Tolerance 2 (the classic understanding of tolerance) is superior,
intellectually and morally, when compared to Tolerance 1 (the contemporary
popular understanding of tolerance).
question now arises: Who’s to say what’s true and good? That is to ask: How do
we arbitrate between competing claims about what’s true and good?
We are to say what’s true and good.
How? By using careful reasoning and careful investigation of evidence to
discern what’s objectively true and good.
Hendrik van der Breggen,
PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The
views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.