Tolerance and “belief-sensitive pluralism.”


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This dissertation explores timely subjects that pertain to the limits and nature of tolerance. Should governments enact hate speech laws? Ought we to prohibit speech and other actions on the basis of appeals to psychological and dignitary harm? Should we endorse recent efforts to revise or reject the traditional conception of tolerance, so as to justify the demand for “identity recognition”? The dissertation takes its launching point from a stand-alone chapter that explores yet another timely subject of debate: how to interpret the actions of those who oppose certain forms of LGBTQ policy. In the course of that chapter, I argue that we have a duty to try and understand the actions of others according to their own beliefs, and especially their own worldview beliefs, relevant to the subject at hand. Only then can we form a just view about the will behind those actions and, hence, avoid gross mischaracterizations of those agents. I call the duty in question “belief-sensitive pluralism.” It is a duty of interpretation or, more precisely, of contextualization. Not only does belief-sensitive pluralism promise to transform current debates over LGBTQ policy in wholesome ways, but it also bears importantly on the above questions about tolerance. In particular, the application of sensitive pluralism strengthens traditional worries about the ethics of hate speech laws, in ways that demand the attention of citizens and governments alike; it reveals serious complications with the categories of psychological and dignitary harm, which make those criteria unfit for a pluralistic society; and it shows that efforts to revise or reject the traditional conception of tolerance, in order to justify modern calls for identity recognition, make immoral demands of citizens. In these respects, belief-sensitive pluralism sheds much-needed light on areas of contemporary concern. Readers who worry that the widespread practice of belief-sensitive pluralism would transform political society in ways that cannot be squared with liberalism—or, at least, Rawlsian liberalism, with its careful avoidance of worldview considerations, given their propensity to divide citizens—will find a concluding chapter on that subject. It maintains that Rawlsian liberalism and belief-sensitive pluralism can be reconciled.