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Article: What Toleration Is Not

Abstract: Following Andrew Jason Cohen, Lucia Rafanelli construes toleration to consist in not merely limiting one’s interference with others’ behaviour, but doing so because of a principled commitment to respecting others’ independent choices. I argue that this conflates toleration with distinctly liberal ideals such as freedom of conscience or autonomy. This conflation not only impoverishes our conceptual vocabulary by using ‘toleration’ to label concepts or phenomena for which there are already perfectly good words, it also renders non-liberal conceptions or theories of toleration nonsensical by definitional fiat. This in turn risks making the historical emergence of theories and practices of toleration on purely prudential grounds – namely, reasons of state – unintelligible. Even though this does not, I think, compromise Rafanelli’s substantive normative conclusions about interference, it does raise important questions about the proper relation between contemporary political theory and the history of political thought.


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