Is Tolerance a Virtue?

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Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:11 pm

Salvete amici!

As we know, Roman ethics was based on virtues. And even today we have so called »values« or »Western values«, which our ethical thinking is based upon.
Let us today consider the virtue of »tolerance« and the question, whether or not it is a virtue at all.

Our English »tolerance« is derived from the Roman virtue of »tolerantia«. However tolerantia had a totally different meaning than today’s tolerance, which refers to respect towards people who think different from us. The Roman virtue of tolerantia meant the ability to go through pain and suffering when the need arose. We see that it is a totally different concept from our modern meaning of tolerance. The Romans had no word for what we mean today by »tolerance«. This concept was perhaps to a certain degree included in the virtue of iustitia that assigned everyone what is his under the motto suum cuique (= to each his own).
A concept for which there is no Latin expression has always caused me to be suspicious about its validity.

So is the modern term of »tolerance« a virtue or not, and what is its value?

The principle purpose of tolerance is apparently avoiding conflict.
If one neighbor enjoys loud music and the other one prefers silence, there are two ways to solve this conflict. One is consideration for the neighbor, which is when both try not to disturb each other. So the one who enjoys loud music lowers the volume to an acceptable level out of consideration for his neighbor. The other way to solve this conflict would be tolerance, which is accepting whatever the neighbor does. In our example the neighbor that actually prefers silence could just tolerate the disturbance.
Both approaches solve the conflict, and there are societies, which use either predominantly the one or predominantly the other. The Roman approach is usually based on rules and regulations, since Romans enjoyed regulating everything. In this case a Roman would follow the concept of consideration and adhere to the laws that regulate the noise that can be produced at a certain time of the day. Of course this problem did not exist in this form in antiquity, because there was no electronic music equipment. But if it had existed, the Roman magistrates had certainly regulated it, because this was the Roman way.
This means Romans were inclined to consideration and mutual respect rather than tolerance.

We can conclude from this that »tolerance« is a possible, but not a necessary virtue in a society. A just society can perfectly work without any tolerance, only based on consideration and respect and regulated by the law.

So how comes that »tolerance« has become such an important virtue, a sine qua non, in our pluralist modern (Or should I say postmodern?) society? Indeed tolerance is essential for postmodern nihilism and moral relativism. If there is no absolute value and all values, cultures and traditions are equal, then none of them must be given any preference. This means other value systems have to be tolerated.
In our example the one neighbor that prefers silence cannot insist that his neighbor lowers the volume, because his habit of listening to loud music is just as valid as the preference for silence. And since silence cannot be actively generated, but is the absence of noise, the only choice that we have under the concept of »tolerance« is playing our own different music style at the same volume.

As already mentioned, such a society based on unregulated »tolerance« can work and therefore is not per se morally wrong.
However there are examples when »tolerance« is not just used as a virtue to solve or avoid conflicts, but as an excuse for morally wrong behavior.
There are two main vices that are usually covered with the excuse of being »tolerant«:
  • Cowardice
    Since »tolerance« justifies avoiding a possibly violent or otherwise dangerous conflict, one can pretend to be »tolerant« while only being fearful of the confrontation.
  • Laziness
    Since »tolerance« does not require any activity and mostly consists of doing simply nothing, it can be used to justify laziness, when an action would have been required for any virtuous person, exempli gratia when witnessing a crime.

In the last case we have an example where »tolerance« cannot be considered a possible, but not necessary virtue anymore, and this is tolerating a crime. A society that tolerates crimes cannot work anymore. Here is when it becomes a problem.

Summarizing I conclude that »tolerance« is not a necessary virtue, but can be a possible virtue for some societies. However it is dangerous when »tolerance« is extended to crimes against the society or to people who are themselves intolerant. Tolerance towards the intolerant leads to self-contradiction.
It makes therefore no sense to promote »tolerance« as a virtue, even if it can solve conflicts under certain circumstances. The dangerous nature of »tolerance« is therefore the reason why it was not considered to be a virtue in past centuries and was unknown as a concept to the Romans.
A society that promotes »tolerance« has a disadvantage against an intolerant, restrictive society based on »consideration« and preemptive respect. This is why »tolerant« societies have historically not survived.
We should therefore reconsider this value in the Western society.

I know that this is a controversial subject, which is why I did not want to make this post while holding an administrative office in this Collegium.
However now I am free to make controversial posts and I hope to be able to start a discussion with it.

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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Publius Sextius Laevus » Sat Jan 06, 2018 5:05 pm

Salvete Dialectici

Is Tolerance a Virtue?

This question has been under debate for a long time and by better minds than mine. And it still goes on. So 'Adversus Melius Iudicium Meum' I will enter the fray.

If we start with the Roman Virtue of Tolerantia as "the ability to go through pain and suffering when the need arose" (I would add) 'and still be be true to the other virtues', and we consider mental as well as physical 'pain and suffering', then the current concept of Tolerance would be a combination of virtues, tolerantia and iustitia.

This presents a problem in a society where there is a separatibon of religion and state, when individual beliefs of right and wrong do not necessarily correspond to what is legally right and wrong. Where is the virtue in tolerating something you believe is wrong, looking the other way and not acting to right the wrong?

In a mono-religious state, this is not a problem. There is one standard and the enforcement is clear. If this appeals to you, I can tell you where to go.

However, if you don't, it gets more complex. If we consider that we live in many layers of community (family, religious organization, town, employment, state/province/region, country, world), each has its own set of norms that we agree to, if only by living/working there. If you don't believe in {enter your religious taboo here}, then you should marry someone not of {enter your religious taboo here}. But if your neighbors are {enter your religious taboo here} and you offer civil services, the virtuous action would be to tolerate your religious indignation, and provide your neighbors the services justly under the law of that community layer in which you are functioning. What you may not tolerate in your family, you would be obliged to tolerate in your town.

Everyone has the right to their own belief, to state that belief and to function in each of their community layers to promote that belief (and others to oppose it) ...virtuously of course.

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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Sun Jan 07, 2018 12:25 pm

Gratias tibi pro cogitationibus tuis, Sexti Laeve!

I would like to add that moral and virtue does not always have religion as its sole source. So even in a mono-religious republic, the question remains.
Should we tolerate loud music from our neighbor during nighttime, or should we assemble the tenants of the building and establish rules which volume of music is acceptable at what time? There is no religion that can give us advice in this question.

Or another example: If we witness a child being physically punished by his parents with disproportionate violence, would it be virtuous to look the other way and tolerate the way how these issues are handled within their family, or would it be virtuous to prove courage and to intervene?
The question here is not, whether or not the punishment is still in the legal frame (legal approach) nor if it would really help the child (utilitarian approach), nor if we are physically able to stand up to the possibly stronger father and mother (feasibility).
The question is only, if there is any moral value in the act of tolerance by witnessing the abuse and doing nothing. There might be good other reasons not to intervene, as those that I mentioned (approval by the law, uselessness of intervention, incapability of intervention), but the only question is: Is it ethically valuable to show tolerance in this case or in any other case?

The only ethical value I see in tolerance is reciprocity. If we know that we will also do something that is questionable to others and we do not want them to intervene, then we do not intervene ourselves when they do something that is questionable to us.
If I know that I will possibly later physically punish my own child, then of course I will not intervene when I see others doing it.
If I know that I will myself have a late night party next week, I will not complain about the music this weekend.
This reciprocity has to do with justice, but from tolerance alone arises no moral value, which is why the Romans had no word for such a virtue in the modern meaning.
The categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant sets the limits for tolerance here:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.


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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Publius Sextius Laevus » Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:51 pm

Salvete Lupe Dialecticique

...establish rules which volume of music is acceptable at what time? There is no religion that can give us advice in this question.
- Secundum Matthaeum* 22:39 "Secundum autem simile est huic: Diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum."

The only ethical value I see in tolerance is reciprocity.
- Secundum Matthaeum* 7:12 "Omnia ergo, quaecumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, ita et vos facite eis; haec est enim Lex et Prophetae."

Should we tolerate loud music from our neighbor during nighttime,
- I can recommend personally the use of earplugs at night or sound-cancelling headphones daytime to promote peaceful co-existance.

The questions presented in the current thread can not be taken in isolation. To condone (more rightly 'conspiracy of silence' than 'tolerance') petti theft because "well, everybody does it" is not a virtue. Ad Galatas* 6:1 "Fratres, etsi praeoccupatus fuerit homo in aliquo delicto, vos, qui spirituales estis, huiusmodi instruite in spiritu lenitatis, considerans teipsum, ne et tu tenteris."

To those most focused on the artificial termination of pregnancy, where they see the practice as not 'just someone elses way of doing things', it does not releave them from acting virtuously. To terminate the terminator is to nullify their own virtue. 'Tolerance' here is to be able to 'bear the unbearable' and still act virtuously: to speak up, to educate, to encourage, to provide viable alternative choices and not to be part of the problem, to come to understand that it is not a single issue: Simpliciter 'misogyny' atque 'male dominance' male dominatus est.

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* Biblia Sacra: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bible.html
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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:17 pm

Well argued, amice, and thanks for quoting the Vulgata text instead of the King James translation.
Yes, you can find arguments for reciprocity in the bible, since like all modern world religions Christianity is also a philosophy, and reciprocity is a basic principle not too difficult to grasp.
However you will find people of all religions on eirher side of this dispute, because these religions are not so clear about it.
But I agree, a monoreliguous environment has less potential for conflict, so that tolerance would become more relevant for conflict resolving in a pluralistic society.
But is it a virtue? Is not justice the better virtue?
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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Spurius Iuventius Catulus » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:34 pm

I think I take exception to the manner in which you're characterizing tolerance in the modern sense. In building your argument, latching onto only one of the word's modern definitions (i.e. to put up with a thing which does not please you) to contrast it with the virtue of respecting others' differences. I also think that you've chosen a particular way of interpreting the modern definition in its worst possible light, construing "tolerance" with being a doormat.

Doormat status is obviously not a virtuous position for anyone. Nor is being indifferent to crime or harm, but ascribing those traits to tolerance is, I think, overextending.

As for the matter of tolerentia vs. the avoidance of conflict, I do not see a contradiction. One of the main reasons to cultivate tolerentia is to avoid unnecessary conflicts, which enhances a society's ability to be vibrant and diverse in ideas and influences, which was one of the many reasons Rome was so successful and influential for so long. A thing that improves discourse and inclusion, and promotes the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures without imposing arbitrary and harmful constraints allows one to more effectively address necessary conflicts -- matters of health, safety, justice -- without sapping one's energy on trifles.

Whether one wishes to consider tolerance a virtue on its own I think depends on how the individual wishes to construct their own ethics. From a Stoic standpoint, one could argue that tolerance arises from the proper application of the virtues: Wisdom in discerning what is and is not a necessary conflict, being Just in personal and civic interactions, Temperance in managing one's activities (as well as our desires regarding comfort/discomfort), and even Courage in coexisting with the Other, and finding constructive ways to make that work.

Does this make sense?
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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:51 pm

Salve Catule Magister!

I agree with tolerance being compatible with the Stoic virtues of wisdom and temperance. It is however not necessarily compatible with justice, since the act in question, towards which we are supposed to be tolerant, might be unjust. Tolerance is however never an expression of courage, since it means not acting, while courage is acting.

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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Spurius Iuventius Catulus » Mon Jan 15, 2018 5:57 pm

Salve Lupe!

I disagree. Stoic thinkers even in antiquity included endurance as a part of courage -- this piece on Stoicism as a system includes some sources on that -- which I think does confirm that tolerance as a practice is compatible with that virtue.

Also, recall that my response addresses matters of justice in the sense that matters of justice are necessary conflicts, not things to let stand on the basis of what one might call "idiot tolerance," i.e. allowing things to happen without considering whether the object of concern is simply a matter of difference or taste, or a matter that needs resolution because others may come to harm, oppression, etc.

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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Tue Jan 16, 2018 2:05 am

Salve Catule!

I think we have no disagreement here. Endurance is the meaning of the Latin word tolerantia. There is no doubt about it being virtuous. But it is quite different from the English word "tolerance", which refers to abstaining from taking action against questionable actions of others.

I think justice, not tolerance in its modern understanding is the actual virtue.
If others do something, which is their legitimate right, even if it might be unpleasant for us, then it is just to tolerate it.
If others commit acts of injustice, it would be unjust to tolerate it.
Ergo nothing becomes virtuous by tolerance alone, only by justice. Tolerance can either be just or unjust. It is not a virtue per se.

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Re: Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Postby Publius Sextius Laevus » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:43 pm

Salvete Lupe et Catule

Although I cannot quite place the quote, in a field of study it is common to have particular definitions of terms that are specific and not as broad as in general use. Since we are discussing Virtue, I would propose that the 'Virtue of Tolerance', being from endurance, be 'If others do something, which is their legitimate right, even if it might be unpleasant for us, then it is just to tolerate it.' Yes it is tied into 'Justice', but all of the virtues are tied in together, to be virtuous is a package deal.

To the converse, 'If others commit acts of injustice, it would be unjust to tolerate it.', here the 'Virtue of Tolerance' I would propose would be to have the endurance to not respond 'in kind'* but to act virtuously (the whole package).

The crux of the problem is in what is 'their legitimate right'. If you live where the public legal 'right' conflicts with the private understanding of 'right', this conflict heats up.** Here is the conflict between public virtue vs. private virtue and one's private virtue vs. another's private virtue, which manifests itself in political debate and civil (and sometimes uncivil) disobedience leading to court cases. And hopefully not civil war again.***

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** Lupe, pro te addam Matthaeum XXII:XXI.
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