Blogs » J.Q. Tomanek of Victoria » Tolerance and opposites...


If I speak of tolerance as a virtue, a natural virtue in the sense that Aristotle speaks of virtue, then it seems tolerance would have two opposites. Both would be deemed intolerant.

On the one hand, softmindedness is intolerant. How is this so? It would seem that being softminded (in other words, based on relativity) would be the proper definition of tolerance. If this is the case, that softminded is the same as tolerance, then allowing falsity to always exist would be virtuous. Take the case of a person with a severe sickness who does not believe he is sick. Should I be softminded and not offer my advice to seek medical attention if it seems necessary for his health? Or if a person wants to commit suicide, should I be softminded about that?

The other extreme of tolerance, if we are basing it as a virtue, would be narrowmindedness. This is the more common understanding of intolerance. It doesn't allow anything different from what one may think. For example, I like Mac-n-Cheese, if I was narrowminded to a crazy degree, I would say that "Everyone must like it." This type of narrowmindedness prevents the existence of respecting another person's likes. The same could be used for belief, religion, opinions, etc.

It seems that proper tolerance must be something like both of these. It must be softminded about some things and narrowminded about others. But what becomes the basis for tolerance? How do I know what to tolerate? The person must measure what to tolerate according to some rule. Why a rule? Well, the relativist would say that each person must determine their own rules. And if this is the case, there is really no use even having this discussion or any others because there is nothing to measure the value of something. We end up without meaning. For example, a square. We measure a square according to some idea that defines a square. But if a person says, “I made up my own definition of what a square is” how do you even converse about squares? There must be some rule of squares to see if a statement squares with squares.
Is tolerance subject to some kind of rule? If tolerance is a virtue, what guides it so that a person knows how to practice it?