Advanced Search

I always took the the word "tolerance" to mean to endure something until it

I always took the the word "tolerance" to mean to endure something until it cannot be endured anymore, i.e. something which is bearable for a while but eventually unbearable - like carrying a heavy load - eventually one has to put it down. Similarly with house guests - no matter how fond we are of them eventually we want them to leave as we cannot tolerate having them in our homes indefinitely. However, unending "tolerance" is demanded of us by our Governments - we have to endure, indefinitely, "guests" (people who do not pay their way) who stay indefinitely, always taking and never giving back. Surely what is demanded of us is not tolerance but rather suffering - and the word tolerance is used, deliberately erroneously, instead to imply that we are being virtuous when instead we are simply giving in because we have no choice - and if we do not want to give in we are accused of not being virtuous. My point is that the word "tolerance" is misused to manipulate. What are your views?

I'm a bit puzzled by your example; I'll get to that. But first, let's check a dictionary. Here are the relevant meanings from Webster:

"To allow to be or be done without hindrance, prohibition or contradiction"

"To put up with"

You're certainly not obliged to tolerate your stale house guests in either of these senses. If you ask them politely to make other arrangements, you're well within your rights. But not all cases are like that. Sometimes I'm obliged to tolerate certain things even if it causes me pain to do so. If I don't like it that members of a certain group frequent my favorite coffee house, that's tough. I shouldn't do anything to hinder them, even if that makes my latte-sipping less pleasant. I may also not like the views you express as you address the town council. But I should tolerate your expressing them - whether or not that makes me happy.

The point so far, then, is that there are things we really should tolerate whether or not it somehow makes us suffer. There's room to argue about the cases, but the principle is surely correct. And in those cases, it's not manipulation to appeal to tolerance; it's pointing out what's called for.

As for your example, you say that "our Governments" demand "unending 'tolerance'" of "people who do not pay their way." I'm not sure where you're from or what government you have in mind. I'm from the United States, and I don't recognize this as part of the common political rhetoric when it comes to social services. There's talk of the "social safety net," for example and there are services provided by the government for people in various kinds of need. But "tolerance" isn't one of the usual buzzwords for these kinds of cases.

You might say that nonetheless, governments are implicitly asking us to tolerate people not contributing. However, let's be careful. Many people who get various sorts of government help have jobs, and wish they had better ones, but they can't make ends meet. Some people who benefit from government assistance are children too young to work. Making sure that kids are provided for sounds like something a decent society would do. Some people who get government assistance are disabled. It's not their fault that they can't work. I don't recall anyone using the word "tolerance" here, but I'm quite happy to "tolerate" having some of my taxes go to helping these folk.

Does the system get abused? Yes, though just how extensively is a factual question that I'm guessing neither of us is in a good position to answer. And are there people who get government support (or for that matter, support from private charities) who are just plain freeloaders? Let's agree that there are. It may be inevitable, all the same. There's a trade-off between making a system strict enough to avoid abuse and flexible enough to do what needs be done. That means we're indeed being asked to tolerate something. But we're not being asked to condone or turn a blind eye to cheating and freeloading. What we "tolerate" is that our systems for helping people are imperfect. We tolerate this because we think (or many of us do) that an imperfect system is better than none. That kind of toleration is perfectly compatible with trying to make the systems better. And asking people to have that nuanced kind of tolerance doesn't sound like manipulation to me.


Afterpoint: one way of reading your question was to take it as having to do with immigrants, perhaps especially "illegal" immigrants. That would raise a whole set of issues on its own, but one that's worth noting, of course, is whether it's true that on the whole, undocumented immigrants don't pay their way. Given that most of them work, and do many jobs that might not otherwise get done, that would be an assumption in need of a defense.


Hi! Firstly, I'm sorry about my poor English. It's not my first language but I hope you can understand my question. Thanks. About Democracy. We know a government can't be democratic unless its laws are confirmed by majority of people. On the other hand, we know the majority can't force the society the oppressive laws. Is not that a paradox?! And what is the line which limit the majority?! For example: in a Muslim country, the majority may want all women dress veil. Does not it mean an oppression to some women who don't like veils?!On the other hand, in that society, if the law lets women dress or not dress veil, can such a law be democratic although it's not confirmed by the majority?! Please note my question is not only about veil in a Muslim society, it's about democracy and its way about such situations. When and where the democracy can ignore the majority will without losing its democratic nature?!

This problem, of the "tyrrany of the majority", is a very old one in political theory, and it is also one of the major practical problems every democracy must negotiate.

Theoretically and historically, its solution lies in the emergence of what are sometimes called "liberal democracies". The term "liberal", in this usage, is not as opposed to "conservative" but rather concerns "liberties", that is, rights that each citizen has and that serve to protect his or her interests from the majority. In the United States, for example, these rights included those enshrined in the first ten amendments to our constitution, which are collectively known as the Bill of Rights. The first of these reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Exactly what this language prohibits is controversial, of course, but note how it acts as a limit on the will of the majority. Congress here is the representative, law-making body, so what the first amendment says is that the majority cannot make certain kinds of laws, e.g., laws "abridging the freedom of speech", however much they may want to do so.

This idea, which one of course finds in other countries too, of balancing majority rule with rights that restrict its scope, is really quite brilliant. But of course it leaves lots of questions open. For example, in the United States, we might ask: Is a Muslim woman's wearing a veil an "exercise" of religion, in the sense of the first amendment? Would Congress be permitted to make a law prohibiting the wearing of such veils, as in France? These are difficult issues. But, in general, I hope this makes it clear how the question you asked can be answered.

Would the possibility of women competing on equal footing with men be thinkable

Would the possibility of women competing on equal footing with men be thinkable without contraceptives, birth control, and access to abortion?

Certainly. The fact that women have children does not mean that they are obliged to be the main carers for those children once they are born, nor does it mean that while pregnant they are in any way incapacitated. If childcare were to be shared equally, or adequately organized by the state or community, the fact that women have children would be no hindrance to any of their other putative activities.

My question today is concerning authority. I ask: how is authority ever

My question today is concerning authority. I ask: how is authority ever justified? Let me frame my question. Let us allow that "authority" in a governmental sense is to stop the subjects from being murdered, pillaged, to stop violence, to stop thiefs, to moderate economics, etc. Now let me ask you this. If, say, a murderer thinks about killing his victim, but is ultimately unable to do so due to the various laws/punishments involved, the government has been "successful." They have deterred the murderer from committing the crime because of the legislation in place. In this sense, we can say that a government replaces "freedom" with "security". Essentially, the more totalitarian a government becomes, the more "freedom" is traded for "security". However, is it not also true that in the saving of the life of the victim, we have "murdered" the free will of the murderer? Why can authority, in essense, save the existance of one individual, while condeming the existance of another, even if that existance...

I'll admit to being a bit puzzled. Here's the bit where I start to feel things spin: it not also true that in the saving of the life of the victim, we have "murdered" the free will of the murderer? Why can authority, in essence, save the existence of one individual, while condemning the existence of another, even if that existence involves violence or crime?

If the police stop me from popping someone off, no one nor nothing is murdered. In fact, my free will, such as it might have been, stays intact. Stopping someone from acting on a particular choice isn't the same as killing their ability to make choices at all. And if it wasn't a matter of someone literally stopping me, but me thinking the crime isn't worth the punishment, then I've made a free choice between two options. In other words, as you describe the case, it's even less clear that my "free will" has been murdered. There's nothing odd in the thought that, when I make a free choice, I'm often weighing up pros and cons, whether it's the law or other people or nature itself that fixes the minuses and pluses.

In any case, I'm not sure that free will in the philosopher's sense is your real issue. It's true: laws restrict my freedom in a familiar way. They make some choices costly enough that I'm deterred from opting for them. If what I'm deterred from doing is a bad thing, this isn't obviously a problem. You also ask why the victim's life is more valuable than the murderer's freedom. But the thought that letting the murderer make his choice counts for as much as all the choices the victim could have made but can't on account of being dead is hard to fathom. Taking advantage of one's freedom depends on not being dead.

Furthermore, we don't have to stop with "live free or die." In general, being able to do as one likes is important. But so is protecting people from violence or theft or famine or pestilence. Not least, this is because violence, theft, famine and pestilence tend to get in the way of one's choices. Even if we think freedom is the primary value, maximizing freedom calls for making trade-offs. Anarchy might end up with some people being unusually free, but a person can reasonably doubt that it's a good bet.

Just how much law there ought to be is something reasonable people can disagree about. But your own last sentence allows that freedom isn't the only thing that counts. Laws and the enforcement of laws give serious weight to those other things. And as we've already noticed, they often do something else as well: by putting some curbs on some sorts of choices, they can give us a better shot at acting freely overall.

The media frenzy and general public outcry arising from the acquittal of Casey

The media frenzy and general public outcry arising from the acquittal of Casey Anthony has raised a major ethical issue:- If "everybody believes" that Casey was the person who killed her her child, was the jury wrong in concerning itself with the legal technicalities, such as the absence of any substantial evidence linking Casey to the murder. She claimed that her father was implicated in the child's death, and the jury considered him as a completely unsatisfactory witness, and that seemed to have given rise to the "reasonable doubt" that the jury had, and which ultimately caused them to opt for acquittal.

I think that the issue raised by the Anthony case is more directly bound up with the philosophy of law than with ethics more generally. Indeed, the justification for the verdict seems to reflect the nature of American law in particular, which holds that in a criminal case, guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt." In the Anthony case, the inability of the prosecution to establish the cause of death was an especially important factor in the jury's verdict. What's crucial in this context, is the standard of evidence required for a guilty verdict, which is set quite high in order to try to give the accused the 'benefit of the doubt'. Regardless of whether all the evidence seems to point towards Anthony's guilt, the jury was quite right strictly to insist that guilt be established "beyond a reasonable doubt": this insistence does not reflect a misplaced concern with legal technicalities, but rather a commitment to the letter of the standard of evidence in American criminal trials. Despite the not guilty verdict in this case, the verdict should not be taken to establish Anthony's innocence: if the case had been tried in Scotland, the verdict 'not proven' (as opposed to 'not guilty' or 'guilty'), might well have been rendered, but this verdict is not an option in American criminal cases. Regardless, then, of whether Anthony is actually responsible for the death of her child, in light of the evidence, it seems that a proper verdict was rendered, one which is completely in keeping with the appropriate standards governing the trial.

Is there any good reason to be patriotic or nationalistic? Why shouldn't we

Is there any good reason to be patriotic or nationalistic? Why shouldn't we just view our nations as focused socio-legal frameworks within which we can work to try to improve the condition of humanity as a whole?

It is up to us how we see our countries. There is no reason why a basic sense of allegiance and even love for a specific country should not be combinedc with a desire to improve the world as a whole, quite the reverse perhaps. How we perceive our relationship with our country is up to us. Some people weep wildly when they hear their national anthem played, others scoff at the whole notion of a national anthem. There is no right or wrong here.

If I discover someone is doing something unjust and ignore it, is it wrong for

If I discover someone is doing something unjust and ignore it, is it wrong for me to ignore it as 'not my business'?

good question, but i'm sure it's underdescribed -- there probably are cases of 'yes', cases of 'no', and cases of 'undetermined.' Depends precisely what you mean by justice etc. -- and the complex relationship between (say) justice and the law ... No doubt we have moral obligations to intervene when someone is doing something widely judged to be very unjust -- but when the action is less unjust, or when intervening itself might involve breaking a law or other moral obligation, then those latter constraints might outweigh the original injustice ... The thing to do, I think, is try to generate a number of different examples, and then restate the question in the context of specific examples!

best, Andrew

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened to be a house husband. They had no children but he worked very hard maintaining their household. One day however the wife loses her job unexpectedly and asks her husband to help pitch in and get a job. He says, "well I don't want to do that." and in reply she says, "well then maybe we should get a divorce. And he says "Well, yes you can divorce me but I am entitled to half of your earnings for during the time we were married." I don't know this for sure but my gut tells me that most women would find something very wrong with that situation. It would seem wrong because it would seem like the man is responsible for his own livelihood after the relationship terminates. In most situations however the man is the bread winner and the women is the housewife and I think most people don't have a problem with a man paying half his earned income to his divorced wife. Am I wrong in my assumption that women (and men) would balk at the idea...

Certainly nowadays the law would require the woman to pay alimony in this situation, and I am sure there have been many such cases.

I find it hard to see how anyone who wasn't just flatly sexist might think it should be otherwise. Perhaps vestiges of sexist thinking with which we have all been saddled by our society would make our gut reaction a little different, but fortunately we have brains and do not have to be ruled by our guts.

In Kazakhstan three per cent of the population own all the land.

In Kazakhstan three per cent of the population own all the land. Seventy five per cent of the laws in this country concern property Therefore, in Kazakhstan, seventy five per cent of the laws are made for three per cent of the people. Am I right in feeling that this is very unjust country?

Not necessarily. It might after all be in the interests of the majority of the population that the land is owned by a small minority. Perhaps they also deserve to own it, since they acquired it through hard work and merit.

On the other hand, as you imply, this is unlikely so we are probably in the presence here of an unjust system.

In his answer to question 2275 (from Sep 7th 2008), Thomas Pogge wrote: “Most

In his answer to question 2275 (from Sep 7th 2008), Thomas Pogge wrote: “Most political leaders do not act well, morally, and in most cases this is because they are not moral persons, not serious about morality. To be serious about morality, one must try to integrate one’s considered moral judgments through more general moral principles into a coherent account of morally acceptable conduct; one must work out what this unified system of beliefs and commitments implies for one’s own life; and one must make a serious effort to honour these implications in one’s own conduct and judgments. Those who are not serious about morality typically do not act well, morally...” I am very interested in the notion of ‘moral seriousness’, and would be interested to know what the other panelists think about the nature of ‘being morally serious’, as opposed to that of merely ‘being moral’ – and whether they agree with Prof Pogge’s account. I would also be grateful if you – Prof Pogge – could elaborate on your previous...

Moral judgments are often distorted by self-interest. A morally serious person must try to combat this danger by thinking beyond the particular case. A very simple way of doing this is to contemplate analogous situations in which roles are reversed (the Golden Rule). By extending one's judgments to a larger set of cases and then aiming for a coherent way of judging these cases, one is beginning to do what I was asking. Philosophers may take this sort of exercise quite far and, as you surmise, I don't think that every morally serious person needs to do this. But a morally serious person will question her or his moral judgments in the ways I sketched, especially when they are "convenient", that is, in accordance with her/his own self-interest.