There is very little discussion of toleration in the literature of Objectivism. (The main discussion that comes to mind is Leonard Peikoff's essay, "Fact and Value.") To project what an Objectivist view of toleration might be, one can begin with the dictionary definition of toleration: here, for example.
To assess the virtue or vice of "tolerating something," one must specify what, specifically, is to be tolerated or not.
More broadly, Objectivism says to man: be rational first and foremost. As a consequence, be productive, proud, honest, and independent, with integrity and justice throughout. To the extent that toleration may at times get in the way of these virtues, Objectivism opposes it. But intolerance can sometimes get in the way, too, and in those contexts intolerance surely would be evaluated more negatively by Objectivism than toleration.
Concern for toleration sometimes arises from the belief that there is no objective reality or truth, and that we must all seek harmony with others instead of striving for objective awareness of reality. Objectivism, in contrast, upholds reality and objective truth, and recognizes that indiscriminate toleration can often undermine one's grasp of reality and dedication to truth.
We are in fact forced to tolerate much that we would change or avoid if there were a viable option. Being able to do so reflects having a strongly organized value system, so the relative importance of things is not difficult to realize. In other situations, I think that toleration is morally wrong. It means accepting a less satisfactory alternative, and implies that we do so to protect someone else's interests. So it is selfless, or altruistic in motive.
answered Nov 28 '10 at 02:20
Mindy Newton ♦
In Objectivism, virtues provide the abstract moral framework for the activities exercised in pursuit of those values proper to a rational being. For an action to be virtuous means that it falls within that framework. For example, independence, the reliance on your own judgment and not that of others, is an Objectivist virtue, because choosing your values and the means of achieving them as a sovereign individual can only be done properly in the context of your own life and your own knowledge.
There are seven major Objectivist virtues (see Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff for the virtues and their validation). They are major virtues because, together, the form the complete Objectivist framework for moral action, and any action that falls within it is, by definition, proper to a rational being.
However, just as there are many values that are optional, depending on the context of a person’s life at any particular time, there are also many optional virtues that, in themselves, are not considered major virtues, but can be part of a moral framework for action or not, depending on the context.
Tolerance is one of those optional virtues, and whether it’s a virtue or a vice depends entirely on what is being tolerated and why. Tolerating a college professor whose teachings you find offensive may be considered virtuous if you need the credit to graduate, and if you value the degree and future career potential more than having to listen to that professor’s bad ideas and pass his tests. But, tolerating that professor strictly for the sake of tolerance, with no greater value to be gained, is no virtue, and is ultimately just an excuse not to judge.
So, the answer to the question is, toleration can be a virtue or it can be an excuse not to judge. It depends on your values.
answered Dec 09 '10 at 17:19
Roger Theriault ♦
After debating this question elsewhere, I believe now that there is a conceptual difficulty here: "tolerance" and "intolerance" are not opposites. They do not represent an alternative, and the danger of being intolerant does not logically recommend toleration, nor vice versa. By refusing to tolerate, one is not being intolerant, and what goes under the "virtue" of toleration is not actually tolerating. One can (and should, I'll argue) be neither tolerant nor intolerant. One should not tolerate, and one should not be intolerant.
To tolerate is to allow something that is bad or undesirable, which one could do something about. If the thing is merely different from your style or choice, but not bad for you, your inaction is not being tolerant. Only when it is bad and affects you is it possible for you to be said to "tolerate" something, by submitting to it.
Circumstances may "force" us to tolerate something, and then it is a virtue to be able to do so, but otherwise it is wrong to opt to do nothing against something that is noxious. Still, in doing something about the problem, you are not being intolerant of it.
Being intolerant means being illiberal. It means bigotry, not disagreement. It is not just refusing to tolerate what is noxious to oneself, it is actively not permitting what is different from one's choices, in others as well as for oneself. It is implicitly dictatorial.
The opposite of "tolerating" something is "not tolerating" it. A good teacher will not tolerate rudeness, but that does not make the teacher intolerant. It is wrong to say the teacher is intolerant of rudeness. The teacher must be provincial or dogmatic, etc., to be considered intolerant. The teacher is being perfectly fair and reasonable by not tolerating certain behaviors.
Also, it is not being intolerant when one argues with a point of view one disagrees with. It is not intolerant to insist that what is illogical is illogical, and what is arbitrary lacks reason. It would, indeed, be tolerant to agree with error, and smile at foolishness, but it would be wrong to do so, it would supply a sanction of the victim.
Not to be intolerant means minding your own business. If it doesn't involve you, others' foolishness is their concern. You are not "tolerating" it, as it doesn't affect you anyway. One should not be intolerant because one should be selfish, and just.
Both tolerance and intolerance are wrong and immoral. When forced to tolerate, one should endure. Otherwise, one should not tolerate. It is also true that one should be not intolerant. Instead, one should be self-regarding. Being tolerant is selfless and being intolerant is unjust. Not tolerating and not being intolerant are both comfortable, selfish, and moral.