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Tolerance and toleration are terms used in social, cultural, and religious contexts to describe attitudes and practices that prohibit discrimination against those practices or group memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority. Though developed to refer to the religious toleration of minority religious sects following the Protestant Reformation, these terms are increasingly used to refer to a wider range of tolerated practices and groups, such as the toleration of sexual practices and orientations, or of political parties or ideas widely considered objectionable.

The principle of toleration is controversial. Liberal critics may see in it an inappropriate implication that the "tolerated" custom or behavior is an aberration or that authorities have a right to punish difference; such critics may instead emphasize notions such as civility or pluralism. Other critics, some sympathetic to traditional fundamentalism, condemn toleration as a form of moral relativism. On the other hand, defenders of toleration may define it as involving positive regard for difference or, alternately, may regard a narrow definition of the term as more specific and useful than its proposed alternatives, since it does not require false expression of enthusiasm for groups or practices that are genuinely disapproved of.

Confusion with Acceptance[edit]

Tolerance and Acceptance are defined separately and are not interchangeable terms - Acceptance implies approval[1] while tolerance merely allows[2], as this clip of South Park illustrates.

Paradox of tolerance[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Paradox of tolerance

"The paradox of tolerance" refers to the act of being intolerant of intolerance. It is a term generally used by opponents of pluralism to criticize advocates of toleration. The argument goes something like this:

  1. Tolerance means accepting others with differing views/lifestyles/shoe sizes
  2. Some people do not accept others with differing views/lifestyles/shoe sizes
  3. Those people are intolerant
  4. Not accepting intolerant people is itself intolerant
  5. Therefore, tolerance is impossible

This argument is total, unmitigated bullshit. Here's why: This assumes that totally uncritical tolerance is desirable. There's a distinction between being tolerant and blind moral relativism, and it is perfectly reasonable to say that it is not desirable to be perfectly tolerant of every single thing. Extremism rarely bodes well for anybody.

Karl Popper explains it quite well actually:

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...We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.[3]

As an argument against free speech[edit]

Proponents of censorship will argue that since tolerance entails being intolerant of the intolerant, thus opinions expressing intolerance should not be tolerated. However, this is completely wrong as they have made the mistake of equating intolerant opinions with intolerance, when reality is perfectly capable of allowing both the subject of the intolerant opinion and the intolerant opinion[4] to coexist, ie. intolerant opinions do not really intolerate, they are just opinions. Thus, intolerant opinions do not actually need to be censored for society to be tolerant. I mean seriously, by definition the intolerant will have done much more than just expressing their opinion.

See also[edit]

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Lang-fa.gif |مدارا in Farsi


  1. "favorable reception; approval; favor." (
  2. "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude" (
  3. The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 1, Notes to the Chapters, Note 4 to Chapter 7
  4. "We hate Christians and are rebelling against god, huzzah" - The God Delusion Page 2, 7, 39, 363 and 666 (multiple mentions)