Summer 2003
Fully Enrolled

Tolerance, Intolerance and the Intolerable


06/23/2003 - 08/05/2003
Tuesday & Thursday 01:30 PM - 04:00 PM

Public Affairs Center 422

Tolerance is not only the bedrock of America's "Civic Religion" but also a central virtue of all liberal, pluralistic societies. Yet the nature of tolerance is elusive. Whereas respect expresses a positive attitude towards those who differ from one, tolerance is directed towards those whose beliefs or behavior are disagreeable or even considered evil. But when should we tolerate what we disapprove of, and why? When are opinions or actions intolerable? Should we tolerate intolerance? Does the refusal to tolerate always express intolerance? And when should those who are tolerated, even if not respected, feel grateful for the recognition they are given?

If you believe that tolerance is a fundamental value, must you also believe in the moral superiority of liberal, pluralistic societies, which place a high value on individual autonomy, over more communitarian and authoritarian social orders? Should tolerance be a universal norm, or is it a "sectarian" value of liberal, pluralistic societies? Finally, how should a liberal society project its ideal of tolerance in the international arena, given the prevalence of illiberal regimes and intolerant attitudes and behavior in the world at large? Why is the United States today perceived by so many abroad not as a champion of tolerance but as a hegemonic power trying to impose its will on the rest of the world? What would it mean for the U.S. to live up to its "creed of tolerance"?

We shall explore these issues both historically, by way of Locke's Letter on Toleration, Mill's On Liberty, and contemporary debates about moral pluralism and multiculturalism, and thematically, by looking at the application of the idea of tolerance in the areas of speech, religion, sex, education, and international politics.

Readings for the course include John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration; John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; Khaled Abou El Fadl et. al., The Place of Tolerance in Islam; Charles Taylor et. al., Multiculturalism; Susan Moller Okin, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?; Michael Walzer, On Toleration; and a packet of supplementary readings. Written work for this course will include two 8-page papers and online dialog with other students in response to the readings for each class.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:

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