Difference and Dissent: Theories of Tolerance in Medieval and Early Modern Europe [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 52 (2):471-472 (1998)
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Western liberal democracies praise themselves for protecting a full range of differences among individuals and groups. The origin of this ongoing process is thought to be Locke’s Epistola de Tolerantia. Before the Reformation, it is assumed, “a multiplicity of beliefs was deemed to be dangerous, as well as evil; diversity was, so to speak, the devil’s work, and where it existed it was to be stamped out”. Yet, although flattering to liberalism, the conceit of a modern liberal discovery of liberty of conscience is both conceptually simplistic and historically misleading. The main virtue of this volume is to challenge this tale of Western political history. The essays presented seek to demonstrate that premodern thinkers generated alternative theories of toleration; and to contribute to a philosophical analysis of tolerance.
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