Thursday, October 29, 2009

Moral Conviction and Disagreement: Getting Beyond Negative Toleration

Here it is.

ABSTRACT: Toleration seems essential for peace in any sufficiently diverse society. At the same time, no one thinks that we should (or can) tolerate everything. That there are limits to what is tolerable gives rise to a difficult puzzle to be resolved by any society in which some of the differences between individuals or groups are, or seem to be, differences in their moral convictions. Toleration of beliefs and practices that conflict with one’s moral convictions seems problematic: how can it be compatible with living in accordance with one’s convictions that one tolerate things that one judges to be morally intolerable? This apparent conflict can be resolved by showing that tolerant engagement is compatible with moral integrity, and is furthermore an appropriate relationship to cultivate with those with whom one has moral disagreements, given other basic values (of persons and of humility). Tolerant engagement can take the form of discourse, compromise, and integration. None of these activities guarantees the resolution of moral disagreements, but they provide a better starting point than more adversarial relations (such as what I call “civil intolerance”) because they encourage the development of a community moral judges rather than, as it were, a community of moral strangers.

Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tolerant Engagement Redux

I currently revising the paper I'm to give at the Concerned Philosophers for Peace Conference in a couple weeks. The idea is to figure out how toleration can be squared with one's own moral convictions (and preserving one's integrity), where one has serious moral disagreements with others.

The line I've been tempted by is that it won't do to say that we should tolerate those with whom we have serious moral disagreements, unless toleration is understood as something more than restraint and forbearance. After all, why should I restrain myself toward someone I think is doing (or promoting) something I think is pretty seriously wrong?

The concept I'm pushing is tolerant engagement. We can't tolerate something if we don't understand it, and we can't understand another person sufficiently without having some (sympathetic) understanding of that person's perspective. So, we have to engage.

While revising, it's become clearer to me that (and easier to state straightforwardly why) one can't write off tolerance without writing off the virtue of humility and the validity (or however you like to put it) of the principle of respect for persons. And I suspect, as noted before, that those are fairly basic, widely shared values. And if that's right, then justifying tolerance (or tolerant engagement) shouldn't require any elaborate--or as some put it, substantive--framework of liberalism. (Much of the reading I'd done in working up to this paper seemed to suggest that tolerance does need that framework. Am I missing something that should be obvious? Am I being blinded by my own unwitting liberalism here?) The point is, it's a good thing for tolerance if it turns out to be a much more basic value--like humility (from which it flows), it's one of those things we need so that we don't act like self-righteous idiots.

(And importantly, you don't have to be a self-righteous idiot to have, and honor, your moral convictions, which is the other part of the story. I'll post a draft when it's ready.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Why are we alive?"

I don't normally mess with my daughter's head, but she's been prone to saying some rather "big" things lately. She's three and a half. So tonight, while giving her a bath, I asked her--in something of a table-turning moment--"Why are we alive?"

Without any hesitation, she responded, "Because we aren't dead."

Is that normal, of have I already corrupted the youth?