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The Paradox of Tolerance

Ana Suarez Aug 27, 2020
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Should we be tolerant to intolerants? Are there any limits to tolerance?

In 1945, the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, explained that "in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance".

Every society needs to counter-attack intolerant philosophers (and philosophies) using rational arguments. If this fails, Popper added, society "should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force".

He called this "The paradox of tolerance" and has been the basis to legislate on hate crimes around the world.

Should we allow all manifestations? Who decides what is tolerance? Are there 'grey areas'?

[1]Popper, K. (2012) [1945]. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Routledge. p. 581. 

Creative contributions

Intolerance defeats the whole purpose of being tolerant

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Aug 28, 2020
I think the tolerant should remain tolerant to all. Intolerance (to anyone) defeats the whole purpose of being tolerant. Moreover, the intolerant can feed on and exploit the intolerance of the tolerant to argue against them. If an x amount of people are intolerant, and another x amount are intolerant to the intolerant, the total number of intolerant people now become 2x. Intolerance breeds intolerance. However, tolerance breeds either tolerance or intolerance. These are the only odds in favor of the tolerant. Then, the next question that arises is – If the tolerant are not intolerant with the intolerant, will the whole world become intolerant? I think the human nature follows a wave function with time. Too much intolerance will sooner or later lead to a wave of tolerance and the same thing will repeat again. Equal collateral damage is expected in both these scenarios. Clashing with the intolerant will consume the same amount of energy as that of waiting for a large part of the world to be intolerant and then tolerant again (following the wave function).
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Ana Suarez 4 years ago
I don't think this can be addressed with Maths. Let's take a historic example, the most obvious (assuming the risk of falling to Godwin's Law). The German Schutzstaffel. According to Ian Kershaw, by 1923 the force had eight to ten members; in 1945 there were a quarter million. Now, allow me to play counterfactuals: What would have happened if, intolerantly, they would have been incarcerated from the start? I am talking about people who openly acclaimed they would assassinate, torture, and starve other human beings (including kids) in concentration camps. After that experience (you can choose another one, there are plenty of them), are we the same? Is it the same -in terms of damage- to squash a criminal movement than allowing the Holocaust to happen? Are we not all responsible for preventing this from happening again? Shouldn't we all be ethically engaged in avoiding this? I have nothing against Maths; what I am trying to say here is that thoughts are not just thoughts. With the correct entourage and environment (I make this a premise), thoughts become concentration camps.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni4 years ago
I am sure Maths can help us answer this. I also agree that the thought of concentration camps is an extreme one and we all hope that such thoughts don't surface again. However, we have tried being intolerant since the beginning of human existence. Where do you think that has led us? Is the world at peace? What I am trying to say is policing is not the answer, for two reasons: 1) It does not suit the tolerant. 2) It does not make things "all good". We need to come up with better solutions.
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Backing John Rawls' solution

Anja M
Anja M Sep 06, 2020
In the "Theory of Justice", Rawls brings out this problem, claiming that if a society is truly tolerant it would have to tolerate the intolerant. However, a limit to this comes if the intolerant in any way threatens the established liberties. This is due to the fact that this way the equality of enjoying these liberties gets threatened directly, and in a society distributing its liberties justly they come higher in hierarchy, thus showing the span limit for such a tolerance. This is the only justifiable case for limiting acting of the intolerant, otherwise the society would show itself in the unjust(ifiable) light. We can perhaps demonstrate this reasoning further: The intolerants cannot complain about not being tolerated. However: a) if we suppress them from a point of a reasonable doubt of their endangering of liberties, we also continue to act justly and with tolerance, and they still cannot complain of not being tolerated. b) If we use this rationale on vague grounds, it could end up on a slippery slope of much mutual intolerance to come, restricting each other's grounds of basic guaranteed liberties, also potentially creating an oppressive society, etc.
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Ana Suarez 4 years ago
Rawls is always, in the end, talking about Popper :) I may add in that in 'Political Liberalism' he also addresses the issue of tolerance and poses the question about how to deal with intolerant creeds in a context of Liberal Democracy and draws the concept of ‘self-preservation’, that is not different to Popper’s. Just as Popper, Rawls is a rationalist and understands that banning a creed or an idea is ultima ratio and stresses that there must be a consensual rejection to it.
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