Paradox of tolerance

The paradox of tolerance arises when a tolerant person holds antagonistic views towards intolerance, and hence is intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be by definition intolerant of intolerance.


Philosopher Karl Popper defined the paradox in 1945 in The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1.[1]

"Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them."

He concluded that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance: "We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant."

In 1971, philosopher John Rawls concludes in A Theory of Justice that a just society must tolerate the intolerant, for otherwise, the society would then itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. However, Rawls also insists, like Popper, that society has a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance: "While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger."[2]

In a 1997 work, Michael Walzer asked "Should we tolerate the intolerant?" He notes that most minority religious groups who are the beneficiaries of tolerance are themselves intolerant, at least in some respects. In a tolerant regime, such people may learn to tolerate, or at least to behave "as if they possessed this virtue".[3]

Mendis, on the other hand, asserts that the paradox forces us to conclude that tolerance is self-contradictory.[4] Forst discusses the "paradox of drawing the limits," and states that "the slogan 'no toleration of the intolerant' is not just vacuous but potentially dangerous, for the characterization of certain groups as intolerant is all too often itself a result of one-sidedness and intolerance."[5] He suggests that this can lead to "a fatal conclusion for the concept of toleration: If toleration always implies a drawing of the limits against the intolerant and intolerable, and if every such drawing of a limit is itself a (more or less) intolerant, arbitrary act, toleration ends as soon it begins—as soon as it is defined by an arbitrary boundary between 'us; and the 'intolerant' and 'intolerable.'"[6]

Tolerance and freedom of speech

The paradox of tolerance is important in the discussion of what, if any, boundaries are to be set on freedom of speech. Popper asserted that to allow freedom of speech to those who would use it to eliminate the very principle upon which they rely is paradoxical.[7] Rosenfeld states "it seems contradictory to extend freedom of speech to extremists who... if successful, ruthlessly suppress the speech of those with whom they disagree," and points out that the Western European Democracies and the United States have opposite approaches to the question of tolerance of hate speech.[8]

Homophily and intolerance

The relation between homophily (a preference for interacting with those with similar traits) and intolerance is manifested when a tolerant person is faced with the dilemma of choosing between establishing a positive relationship with a tolerant individual of a dissimilar group, or establishing a positive relationship with an intolerant group member. In the first case, the intolerant in-group member disapproves the established link with an other-group individual, leading necessarily to a negative relationship with his tolerant equal; while in the second case, the negative relationship toward the other-group individual is endorsed by the intolerant in-group member and promotes a positive relationship between them.

This dilemma has been considered by Aguiar and Parravano in Tolerating the Intolerant: Homophily, Intolerance, and Segregation in Social Balanced Networks,[9] modeling a community of individuals whose relationships are governed by a modified form of the Heider balance theory.[10][11]

See also


  1. Popper, Karl, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume 1, The Spell of Plato, 1945 (Routledge, United Kingdom); ISBN 0-415-29063-5 978-0-691-15813-6 (1 volume 2013 Princeton ed.)
  2. Rawls, John, (1971). "A Theory of Justice": 220
  3. Walzer, Michael, On Toleration, (New Haven: Yale University Press 1997) pp. 80-81 ISBN 0-300-07600-2
  4. Mendis, Michael, "The Paradox of Tolerance," Big Think, 2009 (retrieved August 28, 2015).
  5. Forst, Ranier, "The Limits of Toleration," Constellations, 11:3, pp. 312–325 (2004).
  6. Forst, Rainer, "Toleration", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Accessed 16 Nov. 2016/
  7. "Popper's Paradox of Tolerance and Its Modification," in Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance: The Struggle Against Kahanism in Israel, p. 25; University Press of Florida, 1994. ISBN 0813012589, 9780813012582.
  8. Rosenfeld, M., "Book Review: Extremist Speech and the Paradox of Tolerance", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 6 (Apr., 1987), pp. 1457-1481; DOI: 10.2307/1341168 (JSTOR link)
  9. Aguiar, F.; Parravano (2013). "Tolerating the Intolerant: Homophily, Intolerance, and Segregation in Social Balanced Networks". Journal of Conflict Resolution. doi:10.1177/0022002713498708.
  10. Heider, F. (1946). "Attitudes and Cognitive Organization". Journal of Psychology. 21: 107–12.
  11. Heider, F. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: John Wiley.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.