What is tolerance? We are often told to be more tolerant, and yet there must be limits to what that can mean. It depends on what the existing social situation is, which will determine how we should respond. Is a person asking for tolerance only out of self-interest, in an effort to make us more tolerant of their questionable behavior? If the situation was one of name calling, at the bottom of the chart below, such that they just proclaimed you some descriptive swear word, and then claimed that you should be more tolerant, it would seem reasonable, in that situation, to be less tolerant and more confrontational, but be sublimely polite and serene while doing it.


Tolerance of argument can be categorized into action types.

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As we move up the chart it doesn’t seem that tolerance is clearly in order until we reach the level of a well reasoned counterargument. When another person is still beneath that level, in the mode of simple contradiction, our tolerance needs be expanded only to being politely tolerant until they have spoken long enough to make their position of contradiction clear. Once that is clear we no longer need to be tolerant of their argument, and only tolerant of them as persons unfortunately locked into an non-rational idea. That is a condition we are all exposed to and we shouldn’t be too abrasive about our modest level of commitment to tolerance. When a person presents us with a clear refutation of our argument based on a mistake we have made in some detail, our being tolerant is reasonable and we may even thank them for their correction of our failure. At the highest level, if there is refutation of our central argument in a clear and unchallengeable way, based on unquestionable facts and obvious conclusions, then we should express our greatest possible tolerance and profound thanks for the instruction.

The lower levels, such as responding only to the tone of our presentation, or Ad Hominem challenges based solely on our authority and not even considering the evidence we present, don’t require us to use but very little of our time or tolerance relating to them before moving on to more substantive subjects and people.

Tolerance is to be given to those who deserve it.

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