Toleration and tolerance are terms used in social, cultural and religious contexts to describe attitudes and practices that prohibit discrimination against those practices or group memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority. Conversely, 'intolerance' may be used to refer to the discriminatory practices sought to be prohibited. Though developed to refer to the religious toleration of minority religious sects following the Protestant Reformation, these I love men terms are increasingly used to refer to a wider range of tolerated practices and groups, such as the toleration of sexual practices and orientations, or of political parties or ideas widely considered objectionable.--(from reference.com)
The principle of toleration is controversial. Liberal critics may see in it an inappropriate implication that the "tolerated" custom or behavior is an aberration or that authorities have a right to punish difference; such critics may instead emphasise notions such as civility or pluralism. Other critics may regard a narrow definition of 'tolerance' as more useful, since it does not require a false expression of enthusiasm for groups or practices which are genuinely disapproved of.
An early champion of toleration in Europe was Pawel Wlodkowic, who at the Council of Constance advocated the pagan nations' rights. However, the development of a body of theory on the subject of toleration didn't begin until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in response to the Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion and persecutions that followed the breaks with the Catholic Church instigated by Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli and others. In response to the theory of persecution that was used to justify wars of religion and the execution of persons convicted of heresy and witchcraft, writers such as Sebastian Castellio and Michel de Montaigne questioned the morality of religious persecution, and offered arguments for toleration. By contrast, Poland, which had been uniquely tolerant and ethnically as well as religiously diverse, officially confirmed its status as "a place of shelter for heretics" in the Confederation of Warsaw of 1573, the first toleration act in Europe .
A detailed and influential body of writing on the question of toleration was produced in Britain in the seventeenth century, during and after the destructive English Civil Wars. John Milton and radical Parliamentarians such as Gerrard Winstanley argued that Christian and Jewish worship should be protected, and it was during the period that Oliver Cromwell allowed the return of Jews to England. These early theories of toleration were limited however, and did not extend toleration to Roman Catholics (who were perceived as disloyal to their country) or atheists (who were held to lack any moral basis for action). John Locke, in his Letter Concerning Toleration and Two Treatises of Government proposed a more detailed and systematic theory of toleration, which included a principle of Separation of Church and State that formed the basis for future constitutional democracies. The British Toleration Act of 1689 was the political result of seventeenth century theorists and political exigency, which despite the limited scope of the toleration it granted was nevertheless a key development in the history of toleration, which helped produce greater political stability in the British Isles.
The philosophers and writers of the Enlightenment, especially Voltaire and Lessing, promoted and further developed the notion of religious tolerance, which however was not sufficient to prevent the atrocities of the Reign of Terror. The incorporation by Thomas Jefferson and others of Locke's theories of toleration into the Constitution of the United States of America was arguably more successful.
For example, a distinction is sometimes drawn between mere "Toleration" and a higher notion of "Religious Liberty":
Some philosophers [. . .] regard toleration and religious freedom as quite distinct things and emphasize the differences between the two. They understand toleration to signify no more than forbearance and the permission given by the adherents of a dominant religion for other religions to exist, even though the latter are looked upon with disapproval as inferior, mistaken, or harmful. In contrast these thinkers recognize religious liberty as as the recognition of equal freedom for all religions and denominations without any kind of discrimination among them [. . .] in the case of religious liberty, no one is rightfully possessed of the power not to tolerate or to cancel this liberty.
Discussions of toleration therefore often divided between those who view the term as a minimal and perhaps even historical virtue (perhaps today to be replaced by a more positive and robust appreciation of pluralism or diversity), and those who view it as a concept with an important continuing vitality, and who are more likely to use the term in considering contemporary issues regarding discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, disability, and other reasons.
There are also debates with regard to the historical factors that produced the principle of toleration, as well as to the proper reasons toleration should be exercised, with some arguing that the growth of skepticism was an important or necessary factor in the development of toleration, and others arguing that religious belief or an evolving notion of respect for individual persons was or is the basis on which toleration was or should be practiced.
I am in charge. I will allow you some though not all of the rights and privileges that I enjoy, provided that you behave yourself according to rules that I will lay down and enforce."
Mark Cohen states that it seems that all the monotheistic religions in power throughout the history have felt it proper, if not obligatory, to persecute nonconforming religions. Therefore, Cohen concludes, Medieval Islam and Medieval Christianity in power should have persecuted non-believers in their lands and "Judaism, briefly in power during the Hasmonean period (second century BCE) should have persecuted pagan Idumeans". Cohen continues: "When all is said and done, however, the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom. This begs a more thorough and nuanced explanation than has hitherto been given."
In particular, should a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? What if by tolerating action "A", society destroys itself? Tolerance of "A" could be used to introduce a new thought system leading to intolerance of vital institution "B". It is difficult to strike a balance and different societies do not always agree on the details, indeed different groups within a single society also often fail to agree. The current suppression of Nazism in Germany is considered intolerant by some countries, for instance, while in Germany itself it is Nazism which is considered intolerably intolerant.
Philosopher John Rawls devotes a section of his influential and controversial book A Theory of Justice to the problem of whether a just society should or should not tolerate the intolerant, and to the related problem of whether or not, in any society, the intolerant have any right to complain when they are not tolerated.
Rawls concludes that a just society must be tolerant; therefore, the intolerant must be tolerated, for otherwise, the society would then be intolerant, and so unjust. However, Rawls qualifies this by insisting that society and its social institutions have a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance. Hence, the intolerant must be tolerated but only insofar as they do not endanger the tolerant society and its institutions.
Similarly, continues Rawls, while the intolerant might forfeit the right to complain when they are themselves not tolerated, other members of society have a right, perhaps even a duty, to complain on their behalf, again, as long as society itself is not endangered by these intolerant members. The ACLU is a good example of a social institution that protects the rights of the intolerant, as it frequently defends the right to free speech of such intolerant organizations as the Ku Klux Klan.
Followers of Ayn Rand tend to see tolerance as associated with the institution of objective law. Attempts to increase tolerance by applying different rules to different people would ultimately be self defeating.
Many universities, in attempting to enforce certain political and ideological viewpoints through means other than instruction and debate have been come to be viewed by some as intolerant.