Sunday, 28 July 2013

Civility and Toleration

I would like to report on one of our more interesting visiting speaker presentations - by Medhat Khattar, a biologist here at NTU. Medhat introduced the some of key ideas of the political philosophy of R.G. Collingwood, especially the concept of toleration and how it articulates itself into wider notions of civility. Collingwood's political philosophy explores the 'paradox of toleration' - why tolerate something that you actually disapprove of? According to Collingwood, we must disapprove of things we find intolerable but yet still tolerate. To tolerate without disapproval is to render ourselves merely 'indifferent' and thus in a sense radically unjust. Thus for Collingwood, the opposite of toleration is not intolerance but indifference. Tolerance is active, whereas indifference is merely passive. Tolerance is related to atonement, love, hope and especially to forgiveness. It thus has its roots in Christian theology and Collingwood's political philosophy is an attempt to articulate in secular terms something that is fundamentally religious in nature. This for Collingwood, modern liberalism, the political philosophy that extols toleration above all others, is grounded in Christian theology. The true ground of liberalism is the Christian God of equality that values the worth of every human being. This is the absolute presupposition of liberal political philosophy, the assumption that all forms of liberal argument presuppose and depend upon (even though most liberals are scarcely aware of them). The absolute presupposition of toleration in liberalism is itself a theological presupposition in another guise. Neil Turnbull