Can Tolerance Be Grounded in Equal Respect?

European Journal of Political Theory, 2012

15 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2012

Date Written: March 10, 2011


In this paper I argue that equal respect-based accounts of the normative basis of tolerance are self-defeating, insofar as they are unable to specify the limits of tolerance in a way that is consistent with their own commitment to the equal treatment of all conceptions of the good. I show how this argument is a variant of the longstanding ‘conflict of freedoms’ objection to Kantian-inspired, freedom-based accounts of the justification of systems of norms. I criticize Thomas Scanlon’s defence of ‘pure tolerance’, Anna Elisabetta Galeotti’s work on the relationship between tolerance, equal respect and recognition, and Arthur Ripstein’s recent response to the ‘conflict of freedoms’ objection. The upshot of my argument is that, while valuing tolerance for its own sake may be an appealing ideal, it is not a feasible way of grounding a system of norms. I close with a thumbnail sketch of two alternative, instrumental (i.e. non- Kantian) approaches to the normative foundations of tolerance.

Keywords: respect, toleration, tolerance, liberalism

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Enzo, Can Tolerance Be Grounded in Equal Respect? (March 10, 2011). European Journal of Political Theory, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Enzo Rossi (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Department of Political Science
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 237
Amsterdam, 1012 DL


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