What Is Pluralism and How Does It Relate to Toleration?

Dr. Chandran Kukathas; Pluralism and Toleration
Dr. Chandran Kukathas, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University

Dr. Chandran Kukathas, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University, tackles the issue of how toleration fits into a pluralistic society, as part of a series of videos from the Institute for Humane Studies and Big Think on the core concepts of classical liberalism.

A pluralistic society contains groups holding a diverse set of ethical views and requires its members to exercise toleration. 

– Dr. Chandran Kukathas

This can be difficult on issues where we have very strong views and may not be willing to tolerate certain forms of diversity—but the aim of toleration is to go as far as reasonably possible and recognize that others may find our views distasteful or even immoral.

In the classical liberal tradition, this thinking arises from the fact that people disagree substantially about many things and have different ways of life. This was true at the start of the liberal tradition and is even more important in the modern world.

So how do we deal with these differences? It’s critical to develop norms of toleration—i.e., not try to reconcile differences, so much as accommodate them.

A difficulty that comes up immediately in this framework is: what should you do when toleration threatens to break down? One answer is that we appeal to principles of justice when determining the limits of toleration. The problem here is that we likely disagree on what constitutes justice.

That is why, for classical liberals, toleration should have the role of a free-standing principle, not one that is somehow subordinate to justice. 

The purpose of toleration is to offer guidance in thinking about how one understands a good society under conditions of pluralism or diversity.

– Dr. Chandran Kukathas

While it doesn’t help us settle determinately what the law should be or how we should set a particular question, it does suggest how one can reach some sort of understanding of accommodating differences.

This video is one in a series about the core concepts of classical liberalism. To view additional videos from the series, visit the Institute for Humane Studies blog.

See more posts: Big ThinkCore ConceptsIdeasInterviewVideo 

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