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.
The first question of justice, Rainer Forst argues, is the question of power. Because the focus of justice is the relations in which we stand to one another, it tracks relations of power conceived as the ability ‘ to influence, use, determine, occupy, or even seal off the space of reasons for others ’. 1 Justice does not require the absence of power, rather it requires that persons stand in relations of equality with respect to the exercise of power – something that Forst marks with the idea of a right to justification. Thus, in any scheme of rule, what
I The practice of justification
Rainer Forst’s constructivist theory of justice offers a compelling account of what it means to act morally. At the heart of human morality, he argues, is the commitment to demonstrate our respect for other persons as rational beings who are also finite and vulnerable. Respect for others’ rational nature demands that we act towards them only in a manner that could be justified by generally valid reasons. Responsiveness to others’ vulnerability – which is always particular, unique to each individual – demands that we engage in a
I am not the first reader of Rainer Forst’s political philosophy to observe that there is a certain relentlessness and single-mindedness in his commitment to the practice of rational justification as the engine of social criticism and moral progress. 1 Seyla Benhabib, for example, has observed that Forst elevates the right to justification to the status of the ‘supreme principle of practical reason’. For Benhabib, this results in the ‘overmoralization’ of ethical and political life, overlooking both the dependence of the ‘universalistic moral point of view’ on
relations of dominance and subservience that led Goethe, Paine and Kant and others in the past and Wendy Brown in our own day to be highly disparaging of the very idea of toleration, 19 the respect conception enshrines a notion of reciprocity between individuals or groups that is based on a more worthy ideal of equality of persons. On this view, it is the ‘ moral notion of the person as a reasonable being with … a right to justification [that] is fundamental. This right to justification is based on the recursive general principle that every norm that is to legitimise
. 1 This ‘picture’ of justice rests, in turn, on his conception of human beings as animalia rationalia – that is, as ‘reason-deserving, reason-requiring, reason-giving’ and hence as ‘ justifying beings’ who are owed and owe others, in turn, reasons for the exercise of power over them. 2
Since the early 1990s, Forst has built a complete, constructivist moral, social, and political theory grounded in this ‘basic right to justification’. 3 Our understanding of this system has been enriched in recent years by a series of critical exchanges, in which Forst
Extending the reach of Baylean (and Forstian) toleration
Tis pleasant enough, and very glorious to the Christian Name, to compare the Griefs of the Orthodox, and their Complaints against the Pagan and Arian Persecutions, with their Apologys for persecuting the Donatists. When one reflects on all this impartially, he’l find it amount to this rare Principle; I have the Truth on my side, therefore my Violences are good Works: Such a one is in an Error, therefore his Violences are criminal.
Pierre Bayle 1
‘Shut up!’, he explained.
In The Right to Justification Rainer Forst tells us that
will offer some considerations for thinking that these two conceptions of toleration ought to be thought of as distinct, rather than, as Forst thinks, of the non-ideal kind drawing its normative justification from its approximation of the ideal kind.
Forst’s book is long and theoretically very rich, and it thus defies any attempt at brief summary. The following attempt will, perforce, leave many things out. I hope that none of what is omitted involves mischaracterising the arguments in Forst’s work that are relevant to the present chapter.
of intolerance, because sometimes domination also operates by granting toleration. 2 This is why the correct theory of toleration must be critical: it must subject the various forms and justifications of toleration to critical examination and bring a genealogical perspective to bear on the constant amalgamation of norms and relationships of domination. A history of toleration therefore has to be a dialectical one. It tells a story of the rationalisation of arguments for toleration (each of which has its limits and can become inverted into intolerance), but also of
Film theorists and philosophers have both contended that narrative fiction films
cannot present philosophical arguments. After canvassing a range of objections to
this claim, this article defends the view that films are able to present
philosophical thought experiments that can function as enthymemic arguments. An
interpretation of Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is
given in which the films criticism of the technology of memory erasure is just such a
thought experiment, one that functions as a counter-example to utilitarianism as a
theory for the justification of social practices.