Regulating moral dissent in an open society: The dutch experience with pragmatic tolerance

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 26 (3):225 – 244 (2001)
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In pluralistic modern societies, moral dissent will, to an increasing extent, be an inescapable fact in our lives. Moral dissent, however, involves various serious dangers: escalation of conflicts, the use of violence, flourishing of radical extremism and even civil war. There are basically two ways in which these threats can be addressed: coercive enforcement of consensus or tolerance. First, we could try to eliminate moral dissent by using more dictatorial forms of consensus formation, like propaganda, indoctrination and terror. This, however, would endanger or even destroy the open society. Therefore, from a moral point of view, tolerance appears to be the more desirable antidote to the unwanted effects of moral dissent. This paper aims to contribute to the discussions about the regulation of moral dissent and the formation of moral consensus by analyzing one of the most important and idiosyncratic elements of the Dutch way of handling these issues: pragmatic tolerance. First, some general thoughts are developed about moral consensus, moral dissent and tolerance as a means of regulating dissent. In addition, the characteristic Dutch policy of pragmatic tolerance is described. Finally, some of the pros and cons of pragmatic tolerance are analyzed from an ethical perspective.



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Bert Gordijn
Dublin City University

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