Toleration light - how much difference is allowed?


The text is a contribution to a mini-conference on "difference / otherness from a philosophical point of view" which was held in Georgsmarienhütte in February 1999.

I elaborate a problem touched upon in "Modern Morality" by examining the two most famous expressions of the attitude of toleration in 18th century Germany: Lessing's parable of the ring from "Nathan the Sage" and Frederic of Prussia's saying that in his kingdom everyone should find eternal happiness according to his fashion. I purport to show that both statements rely on a conception of "toleration light" which already presupposes well-defined limits of a private and a public sphere together with the willingness not to let certain convictions have any impact on the publich sphere.

I argue that this concept of toleration has its limits when real danger is at hand. But precisely at this point we are in trouble with people who - for cultural reasons or because of insanity - believe very different dangers to be real than we do. Only then we would be forced to really tolerate someone as being radically different. But exactly then we cannot tolerate them, and it - very unsatisfactorily - seems that in the end it is a question of force how we cope.


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