Toleration and its Paradoxes: A Tribute to John Horton


This paper discusses John Horton’s influential theory of toleration. Starting from his analysis of the paradoxes of toleration, I argue that the avoidance of these paradoxes requires a moral justification of toleration based on practical reason. I cite the conception of toleration that Pierre Bayle developed to support this claim. But Horton is skeptical of such a moral justification, and this creates problems for his account of toleration.

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  1. 1.

    With respect to the first two components I follow King (1976), ch 1. Newey (1999), ch. 1, also distinguishes between three kinds of reasons in his structural analysis of toleration (which, however, differs from mine in the way these reasons are interpreted). For a comprehensive discussion, see Forst (2013).

  2. 2.

    Horton (1996, 32).

  3. 3.

    “Tolerance should be a temporary attitude only: it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to insult.” Goethe (1981, 507 (Trans. R.F.)).

  4. 4.

    Horton (1996, 37).

  5. 5.

    Ibid., 38.

  6. 6.

    Horton (1994, 13).

  7. 7.

    Ibid., 13f.

  8. 8.

    See Labrousse (1982).

  9. 9.

    On this, see my Toleration in Conflict, §§ 4 and 5.

  10. 10.

    A similar argument can be found in Castellio (1935, 131): “But to judge of doctrine is not so simple as to judge of conduct. In the matter of conduct, if you ask a Jew, Turk, Christian, or anyone else, what he thinks of a brigand or a traitor, all will reply with one accord that brigands and traitors are evil and should be put to death. (…) This knowledge is engraved and written in the hearts of all men from the foundation of the world. (…) Now let us take up religion and we shall find that it is not so evident and manifest.”

  11. 11.

    The perspectivism of Montaigne’s Essais seems to have had an influence on Bayle in this regard, though without Montaigne’s skeptical conclusions. See also Brush (1966).

  12. 12.

    See Rawls (1993, 54ff.), where he uses the term “burdens of judgment,” explaining why disagreement between persons can be a result of using reason, not of being unreasonable. In earlier texts he had used the (more appropriate) term “burdens of reason.” See esp. Rawls (1989).

  13. 13.

    This is the view presented by Popkin (1959). Brush (1966, 300) calls Bayle a “semi-fideist,” which is more adequate. I would, at the risk of speaking paradoxically, call him a “rationalist fideist.”

  14. 14.

    The most important philosophical text where this relation between reason and faith—and the reasonableness and unavoidability of disagreement—was elaborated for the first time is Jean Bodin’s Colloquium heptaplomeres (1975). For an interpretation to this effect, see Forst (2013, § 12).

  15. 15.

    See Forst (2003).

  16. 16.

    Horton (2009, 70).

  17. 17.

    Horton (2003, 21).

  18. 18.

    Ibid., 13.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 20.


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Correspondence to Rainer Forst.

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An earlier version of this text was presented at a conference at Keele University in honor of John Horton. I am grateful to John Horton especially for his generous reply and to the other participants of the conference for a fruitful discussion. Special thanks also to Sorin Baiasu and three anonymous reviewers for Philosophia for their helpful comments.

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Forst, R. Toleration and its Paradoxes: A Tribute to John Horton. Philosophia 45, 415–424 (2017).

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  • Toleration
  • Pierre Bayle
  • John Horton
  • Skepticism