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  • 1.a. The action or practice of enduring or sustaining pain or hardship; the power or capacity of enduring; endurance. Obs.
b. Phys. The power, constitutional or acquired, of enduring large doses of active drugs, or of resisting the action of poison, etc.; hence diminution in the response to a drug after continued use. Also const. to. Cf. TOLERANT a. c, TOLERATE v. 1b, TOLERATION 1b.
c. Forestry. The capacity of a tree to endure shade. More widely in Biol., the ability of any organism to withstand some particular environmental condition. Const. to. Cf. TOLERANT a. d. orig. U.S.
d. Biol. The ability of an organism to survive or to flourish despite infection with a parasite or an otherwise pathogenic organism.
e. Immunol. The ability to accept without an immunological reaction an antigen that normally produces one.
  • 2. The action of allowing; license, permission granted by an authority. Obs.
  • 3. The action or practice of tolerating; toleration; the disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others; freedom from bigotry or undue severity in judging the conduct of others; forbearance; catholicity of spirit.
  • 4. Technical uses.
a. Coining. The small margin within which coins, when minted, are allowed to deviate from the standard fineness and weight: also called allowance. (Cf. TOLERATION 5, REMEDY n. 4.)
b. In Mech., an allowable amount of variation in the dimensions of a machine or part. More widely, the allowable amount of variation in any specified quantity.
  • 5. attrib. and Comb.: tolerance dose Med., a dose, esp. of radiation, believed to be received or taken without harm; tolerance level, the level that can be tolerated or is acceptable; spec. in Med. = tolerance dose above; tolerance limit, a limit laid down for the permitted variation of a parameter of a product.


Tolerance is used in social, cultural and religious contexts to describe attitudes which are "tolerant" (or moderately respectful) of practices or group memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority. In practice, "tolerance" indicates support for practices that prohibit ethnic and religious discrimination. Conversely, 'intolerance' may be used to refer to the discriminatory practices sought to be prohibited. Though developed to refer to the religious toleration of minority religious sects following the Protestant Reformation, these terms are increasingly used to refer to a wider range of tolerated practices and groups, or of political parties or ideas widely considered objectionable.[1]

The concept of toleration is controversial. For one, "toleration" does not raise the level of an actual principle or ethic, such as other concepts (respect, reciprocity, love) do. Liberal critics may see in it an inappropriate implication that the "tolerated" custom or behavior is an aberration or that authorities have a right to punish difference; such critics may instead emphasise notions such as civility, pluralism, or respect. Other critics may regard a narrow definition of 'tolerance' as more useful, since it does not require a false expression of enthusiasm for groups or practices which are genuinely disapproved of.

Tolerance and monotheism

One theory of the origins of religious intolerance, propounded by Sigmund Freud in Moses and Monotheism, links intolerance to monotheism. More recently, Bernard Lewis and Mark Cohen have argued that the modern understanding of tolerance, involving concepts of national identity and equal citizenship for persons of different religions, was not considered a value by pre-modern Muslims or Christians, due to the implications of monotheism.[8] The historian G.R. Elton explains that in pre-modern times, monotheists viewed such toleration as a sign of weakness or even wickedness towards God. [9] The usual definition of tolerance in pre-modern times as Bernard Lewis puts it was that:

“I am in charge. I will allow you some though not all of the rights and privileges that I enjoy, provided that you behave yourself according to rules that I will lay down and enforce."[10]”

Mark Cohen states that it seems that all the monotheistic religions in power throughout the history have felt it proper, if not obligatory, to persecute nonconforming religions. [11] Therefore, Cohen concludes, Medieval Islam and Medieval Christianity in power should have persecuted non-believers in their lands and "Judaism, briefly in power during the Hasmonean period (second century BCE) should have persecuted pagan Idumeans". [11] Cohen continues: "When all is said and done, however, the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom. This begs a more thorough and nuanced explanation than has hitherto been given."[11]

Tolerating the intolerant

Philosopher Karl Popper asserted, in The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1, that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance; illustrating that there are limits to tolerance.

Philosopher John Rawls devotes a section of his influential and controversial book A Theory of Justice to this problem; whether a just society should or should not tolerate the intolerant. He also addresses the related issue of whether or not the intolerant have any right to complain when they are not tolerated, within their society.

Rawls concludes that a just society must be tolerant; therefore, the intolerant must be tolerated, for otherwise, the society would then itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. However, Rawls qualifies this conclusion by insisting, like Popper, that society and its social institutions have a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance. Hence, the intolerant must be tolerated but only insofar as they do not endanger the tolerant society and its institutions.


Tact is the fulcrum of social leverage, and tolerance is the earmark of a great soul.[1]


  2. Vartan Gregorian, "Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith", Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pg 26-38 ISBN 081573283X
  3. Granada by Richard Gottheil, Meyer Kayserling, Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906 ed.
  4. Jewish Virtual Library - Poland
  5. Britannica Online - Poland: The rule of Jagielo
  6. Portal UNESCO, Poland - The General Confederation of Warsaw
  7. Dzieje podzielone, Prof. Janusz Tazbir, Polityka 03-07-2004
  8. Lewis (1997), p.321; (1984) p.65; Cohen (1995), p.xix
  9. quoted in Cohen (1995), p.xix
  10. Lewis (2006), pp.25-36
  11. Cohen (1995) p. xix