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Toleration and State Neutrality: The Case of Symbolic FGM

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Abstract

Traditional theories of toleration have to face the well-known problem of pre-emption of toleration. A liberal state should maximize individual liberties and be neutral with respect to diverse religions and theories of the good. In this scenario, the state cannot tolerate a certain practice because for toleration to obtain the state should object to a practice, while accepting it for some other reason. However, if the state is neutral, there should be no reason to object to a given practice, while allowing it. Hence, either the state allows a certain practice, without objecting to it, or such a practice should be banned. Then, toleration in a liberal state seems pre-empted by state neutrality and individual liberties.

Within this traditional understanding of toleration, the case of symbolic genital cutting might represent a genuine case of toleration insofar as a liberal state might have reasons to accept it, while still having reasons of objection. The reasons for accepting this symbolic practice include the principle of harm reduction and the idea that a symbolic formulation of this practice might contribute to an evolution of the practice that does not harm women. However, the conditions for these reasons to apply are hard to obtain. Hence, the case for toleration in a liberal state, although possible in theory for symbolic genital cutting, might not easily be translated into practice.

Keywords

  • Toleration
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Symbolic genital cutting
  • Ritual circumcision
  • Neutrality
  • Cosmetic genital surgery
  • Double standards
  • Pre-emption of toleration

Federico Zuolo is Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Genoa (Italy). Before joining the University of Genoa he held positions in Pavia, Berlin, and Hamburg, and was Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Senior Research Fellow. His main interests include animal ethics, public reason, toleration, respect, and the basis of equality. He has published papers on animal ethics (Utilitas, Social Theory and Practice, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Journal of Value Inquiry) and on issues of pluralism, toleration, and respect (Journal of Applied Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, European Journal of Political Theory). He has published a book on animal politics, Animals, Political Liberalism and Public Reason (Palgrave 2020).

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Correspondence to Federico Zuolo .

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Zuolo, F. (2022). Toleration and State Neutrality: The Case of Symbolic FGM. In: Sardoč, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Toleration. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-42121-2_15

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