Last Word on Tolerance, for Now [EDIT: Links to Dr. Feser]

Mr. Wright pointed out that I should drop it. He is correct. Getting into pointless arguments is really no good for me or anybody else.

So, here is my last word. Let’s look at three definitions of tolerance. Here is one from Oxford (tolerant, in this case):

Showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with

Here it is from Merriam-Webster:

Willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own

And here it is from

A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own

So in the definition, I need to have a “fair, objective, and permissive” attitude. First off, “permissive” is already a problematic word. But besides that, that definition is not the definition of Oxford or Merriam-Webster, which only talks about accepting or allowing differing opinions – which, once again, is only a good thing some of the time.

In the definition, what do we do if after we adopt a “Fair and objective” attitude towards another religion, we decide that it’s evil? Should we still be permissive?

And again – the definition is wrong. Tolerance was never understood in a way that involved us judging something in a “Fair and objective way” before being tolerant of it, for the very simple and straightforward reason that this will require us to be intolerant some of the time.

Once again I get the bizarre idea I’m talking to people who live in another world, where the idea that we obviously sometimes need to be intolerant of many things, and tolerance isn’t a positive virtue but  a neutral tool, somehow is not self-apparent. But continuing to argue about it will clearly do me no good.

This conversation is, however, more evidence that being a classical liberal is, indeed, being a liberal.

EDIT: Dr. Edward Feser – a pseudo-libertarian, as I believe he called himself once, no less – agrees with me entirely:

The egalitarian regime insists, notionally, on tolerating every opinion and way of life, and refuses either to judge any one of them as morally or rationally superior to any other, or to favor any of them in its laws.  Yet no regime can tolerate what would subvert it.  And the very idea that some views and ways of life are simply objectively superior, rationally and morally, to others, is subversive of egalitarianism.  Hence egalitarian societies tend in practice to be intolerant of views which maintain that there are objective standards by which some views and ways of life might be judged better or worse.  That is to say, an egalitarian regime inevitably tolerates only those views which are egalitarian.  Which means, of course, that it tolerates only itself.

Nor is it by any means only these more extreme forms of egalitarianism that practice intolerance in the name of tolerance.  You will find the same tendency in John Locke, that most moderate of early modern liberals.  Locke famously argued for religious toleration — except for Catholics, for atheists, or for anyone who rejects the doctrine of religious toleration. 

And, even better and more clearly, here:

Similarly, moderation tells us that we sometimes need to refrain from indulging our appetites, in some cases even when we have an extremely powerful desire to indulge them.  Tolerance, by contrast, refuses to condemn such indulgence.  Toleration works in tandem with empathy, as moderation works together with courage.  Just as courage is reason’s ally in keeping the appetites at bay — it reminds us that it is weak and shameful to indulge when reason says we shouldn’t — so too is empathy the ally of the appetitive part of the soul in its war with reason, giving it permission to indulge and to ignore what unkind, unfeeling reason is saying.  Courage and moderation command: “You’re a human being!  Don’t act like animal!”  Empathy and toleration respond: “We understand, go ahead, you’re just an animal anyway!

So, there can be real value in open-mindedness, empathy, tolerance, and fairness, and a wise man will acknowledge this.  But it is crucial to see that their value is instrumental.  They are of secondary value, of significance precisely insofar as they facilitate the acquisition of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. 

Read the whole thing. Both articles, they’re both absolutely superb.

No writer has had more of an impact on the way I think about life than Dr. Edward Feser. I very well might be an atheist now if not for him. The debt can hardly be overstated.

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6 Responses to Last Word on Tolerance, for Now [EDIT: Links to Dr. Feser]

  1. TWS says:

    I skimmed your back and forth with John Wright. That is what brought me here to find you have a blog. Even if nothing else comes of it. That is a good thing. You are much easier to read when you are not a commenter on another blog because you are laying forth your own ideas and not responding to someone else.

  2. Chad says:

    It is disappointing to see Mr Wright go off on such things. It makes me wonder where he gets the idea he has any of the “vulcan stoicism” he so often describes. I see no hint of it, ever, and all it does is increase how shocked I am when he errs so far away from reason.

    • I mean, the fact that he acts as if what I’m saying is so off the charts insane when people such as Dr. Edward Feser – who, by his own admission, isn’t even a classical conservative! – agree with me you’d think that I deserve to at least be taken seriously as opposed to being met with incredibly weak analogies to Ayn Rand’s objectivism.

      So, yeah. I question that line of Gene Autry’s cowboy code, and think it was a harbinger of things to come – and while I get what Mr. Wright is saying I have no idea why what I said is so unbelievably offensive, especially in this case.

  3. Chad says:

    From what I can tell, it is his valued reason that blinds him. He poses himself up high as a paragon of cold reason. If any disagree, they are either flawed in logic or emotional; and from his language he sets up each as subhumman and slavish in their predilection – such as when he starts his mantra on how those subjects of kings can’t engage in civil discussion nor are those who believe in intolerance able to be borne as commenters on his blog. Then he accuses you of being the one throwing himself to extremes….

    Its all very odd, illuminating, and humbling; as I am sure we all (myself certainly included) do the same. But I’ve never seen it so clearly or forcefully done

    • That seems about right. Mr. Wright, I think, contra what he thinks, feels very deeply, which is one reason he can write such moving fiction.

      If you want truly great essays with brilliant insights the man to read is Tom Simon. I know I must sound like a broken record at this point, but more of his books need to sell so I’m going to continue to plug him. The man is brilliant. If I ever start my publishing house, I’m going to contact him.

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