Is tolerance for other cultures (including religions) and peoples an essential trait of Western Humanism (by Western Humanism I mean here: Renaissance Humanism and Enlightenment humanism).

By tolerance for other cultures (including religions), I mean an idea embodied in those quotations:

Everyone calls barbarism that which is not of his use. (Montaigne, 1533-1592) Chacun appelle barbarie ce qui n’est pas de son usage.

I consider all men my compatriotes. (Montaigne, 1533-1592) J'estime tous les hommes mes compatriotes.

I am a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger. (Erasmus, 1466-1536) Ego mundi civis esse cupio, communis omnium, vel peregrinus magis.

There are truths on this side of the Pyrénées which are falsehoods on the other. (Pascal, 1623-1662) Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au delà.

May all men remember that they are brothers! (Voltaire, 1694-1778) Puissent tous les hommes se souvenir qu'ils sont frères.

  • Tolerance has a distinctly non-Eastern flavor.
    – Hudjefa
    Mar 15, 2023 at 7:39

1 Answer 1


For some cultures, yes.

For all cultures, no.

There comes a point at which humanism must find itself opposed to any culture which is - to a certain extent - intolerant of any values humanism holds dear.

The Paradox of Tolerance states:

"...if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. Karl Popper described it as the seemingly self-contradictory idea that in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must retain the right to be intolerant of intolerance".

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    @Futilitarian How did that play out for Renaissance Humanism and Enlightenment humanism, which is the historical scope of this question?
    – Frank
    Mar 13, 2023 at 13:50
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    @Frank. My thought process was: Regardless of whether the 'Paradox of Tolerance' or some version of it was coined that early, it's an obvious observation to make once tolerance is contemplated; it exists when considering the question of how far to extend tolerance. So, once 'humanism' was deemed a thing, the paradox would exist by virtue of it embodying features which would make it intolerant of other ideologies. Does that make sense? Mar 13, 2023 at 13:56
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    @Futilitarian But maybe they didn't reach a situation that would involve that paradox till later. For example, Germany has the concept of "streitbare Demokratie" which means that the state will fight extremists to maintain democracy, which seems related to the paradox, but that came after WWII. Maybe in the historical period of the question did they never need to fight intolerance with intolerance.
    – Frank
    Mar 13, 2023 at 16:30
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    @Frank: That is an example of the slow moving machine that is governmental consensus. Given the scope of implementing anything on such a given scale, there is a given cutoff for an issue to be of a certain size/impact before such action is considered. Comparatively, a single philosopher is much faster to act on much smaller ideas because the lower administrative overhead.
    – Flater
    Mar 13, 2023 at 22:42
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    @Frank To put it differently, a government goes through a slow process: (a) we must be tolerant (b) how should we be tolerant? (c) should be we tolerant of the intolerant? B is the separation that you're pointing out, but B is almost entirely dictated by the scale of the decision made in A. For a philosopher, the ability to even state A inherently means that they themselves already mostly (if not completely) grasp B, which means they move on to C so much faster.
    – Flater
    Mar 13, 2023 at 22:44

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