Toleration and tolerance are terms used in social, cultural and religious contexts to describe attitudes which are "tolerant" (or moderately respectful) of practices or group memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority.
In practice, "tolerance" indicates support for practices that prohibit ethnic and religious discrimination.
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 terms are increasingly used to refer to a wider range of tolerated practices and groups, or of political parties or ideas widely considered objectionable.
The concept of toleration is controversial. For one, "toleration" does not raise the level of an actual principle or ethic, such as other concepts (respect, reciprocity, love) do.
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, pluralism, or respect.
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.
Though developed to refer to the religious toleration of minority religious sects following the Protestant Reformation, the terms "toleration" and "tolerance" 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.
Changing applications and understandings of the term can sometimes make debate on the question difficult.
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.
1. to allow something to exist or happen, even although one does not approve of it: you must learn to tolerate opinions other than your own
2. to put up with (someone or something): he found the pain hard to tolerate [Latin tolerare to sustain]
Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition 2006