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Rainer Forst in dialogue
Series: Critical Powers
Author: Rainer Forst

Rainer Forst's Toleration in Conflict (published in English 2013) is the most important historical and philosophical analysis of toleration of the past several decades. Reconstructing the entire history of the concept, it provides a forceful account of the tensions and dilemmas that pervade the discourse of toleration. In his lead essay for this volume, Forst revisits his work on toleration and situates it in relation to both the concept of political liberty and his wider project of a critical theory of justification. Interlocutors Teresa M. Bejan, Chandran Kukathas, John Horton, Daniel Weinstock, Melissa S. Williams, Patchen Markell and David Owen then critically examine Forst's reconstruction of toleration, his account of political liberty and the form of critical theory that he articulates in his work on such political concepts. The volume concludes with Forst’s reply to his critics.

Rainer Forst

Rainer Forst begins his lead essay by discussing the concept of toleration. He asserts that toleration involves three components – objection, acceptance and rejection – and that its task is to bring these components into the correct normative order. He then identifies two different conceptions of toleration that have been advanced in the past: the permission conception, an authoritarian attitude which grants minorities the permission to live according to their faith, and the respect conception, an attitude of citizens who know that they do not agree with each other, but who accept that institutions must be based on norms which can be shared by all. While it is tempting to believe that today we follow the respect conception, in reality the permission conception is still regularly employed. Negotiating these different conceptions requires a normative principle beyond toleration; Forst proposes that this principle should be justice. The central connection between justice and toleration, he argues, consists in the following question: Does my objection to a practice rest on reasons that do not merely reflect my ethical or religious position that others do not share, but on reasons that are sufficient to proceed to rejection? Forst concludes by arguing that if we want to talk about genuine progress in toleration, the central question is how to develop a secular moral language in which those affected can present and discuss their claims – and in which there is a willingness also to treat minorities as equals.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification