Can a Value-Neutral Liberal State Still Be Tolerant?

Michael C. Kühler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Toleration is typically defined as follows: an agent (A), for some reason, objects to certain actions or practices of someone else (B), but has outweighing other reasons to accept these actions or practices nonetheless and, thus, refrains from interfering with or preventing B from acting accordingly, although A has the power to interfere. So understood, (mutual) toleration is taken to allow for peaceful coexistence and ideally even cooperation amongst people who disagree with each other on crucial questions on how to live and what to value, which is why it has traditionally been regarded as an important part of political liberalism. An explicitly value-neutral liberal state then avoids taking sides when it comes to different and competing ways of life. However, following this idea of liberal neutrality, it has been questioned whether a value-neutral liberal state still needs toleration or is even compatible with it, for apparently neutrality leaves no more room for the objection component of toleration to take hold. In this paper, I take up this question and argue that there is, indeed, conceptual and practical room left for a value-neutral liberal state to be tolerant. Drawing on the interplay between four kinds of reasons (pragmatic, ethical, moral, and political), pragmatic and political reasons may still provide the needed evaluative and normative ground upon which the combination of objection and outweighing acceptance can be made sense of. However, the possible scope of toleration for a value-neutral liberal state is considerably limited.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP)
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 10 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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