728 x 90

Why So Many ‘Tolerant’ People Are Actually the Opposite

Why So Many ‘Tolerant’ People Are Actually the Opposite

It’s become common to point out that those who most preach “tolerance” are often themselves highly “intolerant.”

But why is that?

As University of Texas professor and ethics expert J. Budziszewski explains, it may have a lot to do with tolerance’s character as a virtue.

Let me explain. Or rather, I’ll explain Budziszewski’s explanation from his excellent article, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality.” This explanation involves three steps:

1) Tolerance is a virtue.

A virtue is a behavioral disposition that lies between the extremes of deficiency and excess, and assists one in pursuing the good. Despite the messiness in its application today, authentic tolerance is a virtue through which one puts up with something in order to—in the words of Budziszewski—either “prevent graver evils” or “advance greater goods.” Thus, for instance, we may tolerate someone voicing a wrong opinion because suppressing it: 1) could lead to further, more insidious suppressions of free speech; 2) could eliminate the chance for truth to shine through when pitted against error.

According to Budziszewski, the extremes to be avoided in exercising tolerance are “softheadedness”—“putting up with something we should suppress”—and “narrowmindedness”—“suppressing what we should put up with.”

2) The virtues are interdependent.

A tradition that traces back to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) holds that all of the virtues are dependent on each other. Budziszewski explains:

“For every moral virtue depends on practical wisdom; hence if practical wisdom is impaired, then every moral virtue is impaired. But on the other side, practical wisdom depends on every moral virtue; hence if any moral virtue is impaired, practical wisdom is impaired. It follows, then, that through practical wisdom, a flaw in any moral virtue entails a flaw in every other.”

To summarize… “Practical wisdom” refers to prudence, the virtue of determining the right course of action in each situation. If one is missing this virtue, then one cannot know how to properly perform virtues such as tolerance in a balanced manner. And vice versa, if one doesn’t know how to be properly tolerant (or temperate, or just), then it means that person is not prudent.

3) People aren’t being formed in the virtues.

A big problem in society today is that the virtue of tolerance is often isolated and promoted apart from traditional virtues such as justice, temperance, courage, and, of course, prudence. The result is a society populated by many people who extol tolerance, but who lack the wisdom necessary to avoid the extremes of softheadedness and narrowmindedness described above. Those who fall into the latter extreme—of suppressing what should be put up with—are the so-called “tolerant” people who are actually intolerant.

Budziszewski warns:

“We cannot compensate for the collapse of all our virtues by teaching tolerance and letting the rest go by, as some educators and social critics seem to think; the only cure for moral collapse is moral renewal, on all fronts simultaneously.”

We have a lot of work to do.

A version of this article was first published in April 2017.

Image credit: Twitter



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *


  • Avatar
    David Bugbee
    May 7, 2023, 6:01 pm

    It's a shame that the other comments to this article are all spam. But I will be tolerant, smile, and shake my head.

  • Avatar
    Mary M
    February 6, 2024, 6:03 pm

    Tolerance is NOT a virtue. It is merely a response. Prudence is the virtue that directs your response.

  • Avatar
    February 8, 2024, 11:21 am

    Budziszewski’s error, as you describe his argument, begins by asserting that tolerance is a virtue. It is not. It is a treaty, an agreement among people to desist from antagonism regarding various characteristics in order to create a society in which people can achieve maximum freedom from interference over issues that are ultimately irrelevant to the functioning of that society. Those who choose not to participate in that effort of desisting from unnecessarily antagonizing their neighbors, and that includes making things up and pretending that makes a "necessity" of suppressing others, obviously need to be excluded from the protections and benefits of that society since they refuse to operate under that agreement.

    From that inauspicious beginning, the argument as you describe it increasingly diverges from reality and results in a waste of effort. These attempts to justify asserting unnecessary control over others in society would be merely laughable if they didn't result in so much harm to so many.

  • Avatar
    February 9, 2024, 8:39 am

    It’s not surprising that a university in Texas would pay somebody to research how the idea of tolerance can be warped and weaponized by fundamentalists.
    You’re telling on yourself and everybody who teaches in this department and you’re proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this department should not be receiving any state or federal funding.
    “Science” and “intellectualism” like this is why so many Americans couldn’t figure out they were telling lies about vaccines and masks that the world watched people suffer and die for.
    Anybody in academia who thinks they need to do a “study,” publish it with no data, draw incorrect conclusions based on made up rhetoric, then attempt to use it to validate bigots and their violence, belongs in prison, not academia.
    Not for writing this but because “science” like this is why functionally illiterate fundamentalists in places like Texas, where this was posted from, are absorbing stupidity like this and think they’re learning actual science.

    This is that third Reich propaganda and that’s not an exaggeration; these are the same lies Hitler used to convince people that Jews should be exterminated.
    Malthusian myths are nothing more than violent fascist propaganda and that’s exactly what this trash is.
    This is how they got so many half-raised adults to believe lies about reality that a million Americans died for because they believed pure idiocy like this that they heard from people they should have been able to trust, who intentionally used official channels to spread dangerous, hateful lies that make it easy for terrorists to lead fundamentalists around by their noses and weaponized them on cue with buzz words and dog whistles like this.


Posts Carousel

Latest Posts

Frequent Contributors