Tolerance & Respect (not the same thing)

March 9, 2011

Another wonderful passage of writing from the estimable Anthony Appiah:-

“Cultural norms are, after all, constituted not only by what they affirm and revere, but also by what they exclude, reject, scorn, despise, ridicule. To forbid the latter set of social practices is to change the nature of the relevant social forms. Perhaps an Igbo who doesn’t find the Yoruba brash and excessively self-assertive will have lost some of his Igbo-ness; certainly a Pentecostalist who found nothing objectionable in contemporary mass culture would be scarcely recognizable to his peers. To favor one thing may entail disfavoring another thing. It isn’t strictly incoherent to value modesty and admire grandiosity, but it may be hard in practice to reconcile them. In their paper on national sovereignty, Margalit and Raz say it is “mere common sense” that “individual dignity and self-respect require that the groups, membership of which contributes to one’s sense of identity, be generally respected and not be made a subject of ridicule, hatred, discrimination, or persecution.” It is common sense, but I doubt it is quite correct – I doubt, in such contexts, that we can require “respect,” as opposed to simple tolerance. As I said in the preface, the sphere’ of “respect” is where liberal abstraction shows its strength, for the encumbered self – whom advocates of community would substitute for the abstraction of the liberal individual – is not someone we can, as a rule, be bound to respect.”

Many people lose sight of what ‘tolerance’ means, namely, ” 1. the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with; 2. the capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental condition without adverse reaction” (OED)

Tolerance is very different from respect. Respect has to be earned.


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