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The word tolerance is said to have been derived from the Latin word tolerate or ancient Greek words like photos, both of which mean to endure. When using the word let, one usually implies that they can take something they perceive as unfavorable. Therefore, to adequately describe toleration, a person has to have a negative perception or judgment about something. Secondly, that person has to have the capacity to negate or reject that thing, and thirdly, the person has to refrain from denying whatever they have a negative perception about. There are numerous reasons one would choose tolerance. These include the desire for reciprocity, kindness, and generosity, being pacifist, having pedagogical concerns, and respecting each other’s autonomy. Contrastingly, there are negative reasons why a person would choose to be tolerant, including arrogance, fear, self-interest, and hidden motives, to name a few.

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Tolerance vs Relativism

Notably, tolerance is not to be confused with relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that objective ethical standards cannot be used to determine right and wrong, and it is up to people or communities to determine which is which; that is, there is no objective (Shafer-Landau, 2004). The confusion between these two concepts comes because both are advocates of diversity in beliefs and actions, among others. However, regarding tolerance, one might allow another individual to say or do something that they find abhorrent due to one of the reasons listed above for toleration, for example, autonomy. While relativism is accepting, tolerance means that individuals negate, and therefore, it is enduring that we do not get.

Tolerance vs Indifference

Moreover, one can also assume tolerance to be indifference. However, there is a distinct variation between the two. Indifference means that one will not exhibit any emotional response or first-order reactions, essentially how humans tend to connect with the world around them. Through emotional responses, people can know what they like and do not like; through this information, they can interact and connect suitably. However, when it comes to tolerance, one has to have emotional responses, primarily negative, that sometimes can be strong, but then one exercises to refrain. This is what makes tolerance a virtue. Essentially, virtues can be described as inclinations or habits toward moral action. Accordingly, tolerance demands that people control and moderate what they are passionate about for the greater good. Secondly, indifference gives one the freedom not to judge others, which tolerance does not demand.

The History of Tolerance in Philosophy

Taking a brief look into the history of tolerance in philosophy, it is evident that the word’s meaning has evolved. In Stoicism, Epictetus’ idea of tolerance is that people should focus on things that are within their control, for instance, their behavior, and ignore the things that are not within their realm of control, for example, other people’s behaviors (Fiala, 2003). However, considering the social status of Epictetus, an enslaved person, one’s understanding of his idea of tolerance changes. Being enslaved, Epictetus had no power to negate other people’s behavior, which is a requirement of tolerance today. Secondly, looking at another philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, meditations heavily referenced the spirit of tolerance (Fiala, 2003), but he is also known to have persecuted Christians; hence, his idea of tolerance was flawed and not as evolved as it is today.

Additionally, Socrates, another philosopher, was implicit in toleration in his methods of expressing multiple viewpoints (Fiala, 2003). Notably, the virtue of toleration is also found in numerous old religions. For example, in the Bible, Christians should love their enemies and forgive those who offend them, which is in the realm of tolerance. More examples of tolerance in old religions include Buddhist compassion.

Moral Skepticism

Moral skepticism is doubt about moral judgments or arguments on what is right and what is wrong. Accordingly, moral skeptics question and examine moral arguments using practical and dogmatic approaches. As such, moral skeptics argue that it is impossible to know what is morally right or wrong or that morality does not exist. It is more of a social construct, using moral relativism and absolutism to prove this point further (Shafer-Landau, 2004). Considering this description, I would argue that tolerance is not an acceptance of moral skepticism. Take, for example, a society that believes euthanasia is right for terminally ill patients, too old, or even healthy people who, for their reasons, request a doctor’s assisted suicide. In that case, moral skeptics would argue that this action is neither right nor wrong because they cannot determine it. This seems more similar to an indifference approach, as described above. However, when it comes to tolerance, in the same case, the person would have to have a strong emotional response to a person undergoing euthanasia and then proceed to refrain from imposing their will on them. This is the difference between moral skepticism and tolerance; the former takes a more indifferent approach to ethical issues, and there is no conflict. On the other hand, the latter involves trying to refrain from imposing one’s own beliefs or values on others and letting them be autonomous despite disagreeing with them or, rather, self-beliefs and values conflicting with theirs.

Moral Skepticism and Shafer Lan Dau’s Arguments

Russ Shafer-Landau also rejects the notion that one accepts moral skepticism by endorsing tolerance. In his argument, Shafer-Landau states that tolerance is an acceptance of skepticism, and skepticism argues that there is no wrong and right or supports subjectivism or relativism. In that case, tolerance would be unnecessary because individuals accept others’ actions without any refrain (Shafer-Landau, 2004). Further, he argues that tolerance in skepticism would only serve as an ethical recommendation, which would then be considered another social construct or, rather, regarded as another falsehood.

In addition, Shafer-Landau argues that skeptics typically agree that tolerance is a good thing, particularly for communities that condemn it (Shafer-Landau, 2004). This is because there is a great need for tolerance, especially for people whose most profound impulse is to hurt people who tend to be different from them. A perfect example is a terrorist who attacks other religions or hate crimes related to sexuality or race. However, skepticism does not offer a secure foundation for this stand on tolerance compared to ethical objectivism, whereby tolerance is considered a good thing without any contradictions. In objectivism, tolerance does not depend on whether society endorses it or not. Skepticism cannot reliably support tolerance; therefore, both concepts are incompatible (Shafer-Landau, 2004).

Moreover, Shafer-Landau states that even though an objectivist has an objective standard of wrong and right, they can still be tolerant. As mentioned before, being kind means having your own beliefs on what is right and wrong that one holds oneself up to, and these morals could be personal, society-made, or from God. However, the reality is that not everyone will have the same standard, and even though one may think they are doing wrong by not upholding those standards, people refrain from enslaving others and giving them their autonomy (McIntosh & Shafer-Landau 2017).


Fiala, A. (2003). Stoic tolerance. Res Publica, 9(2), 149-168.

McIntosh, B., & Shafer-Landau, R. (2017). The Philosopher’s Role. Stance: an international undergraduate philosophy journal, 10(1), 94-109.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2004). Whatever happened to good and evil? (p. 4). New York: Oxford University Press.


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Please choose one subject you feel comfortable with and use Russ Shafer-Landau’s argument. Thank you
Write a 1,200-word paper on one of the following themes or related themes:
1) Today, tolerance is seen as the King of the Virtues. But what exactly is tolerance? And is the endorsement of tolerance an acceptance of moral skepticism? Make sure you consider Shafer-Landau’s arguments.
2) Among the arguments favoring moral skepticism and against moral realism, widespread and sincere honest disagreement seems to be the most persuasive and durable. What is the nature of this argument, and can it be defeated? Make sure you consider Shafer-Landau’s opinions when making your case.
3) Consider the best argument for moral skepticism (if it’s neither tolerance nor honest disagreement). Can it be defeated or not?
4) Russ Shafer-Landau argues that moral skepticism is a dogmatic position. What does he mean, and is he correct?

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