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A Care Ethical Engagement with John Locke on Toleration

Department of Political Science, Western University, London, ON N6G 2V4, Canada
Philosophies 2022, 7(3), 49;
Submission received: 24 February 2022 / Revised: 18 April 2022 / Accepted: 18 April 2022 / Published: 26 April 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Feminist Care Ethics Confronts Mainstream Philosophy)


Care theorists have yet to outline an account of how the concept of toleration should function in their normative framework. This lack of outline is a notable gap in the literature, particularly for demonstrating whether care ethics can appropriately address cases of moral disagreement within contemporary pluralistic societies; in other words, does care ethics have the conceptual resources to recognize the disapproval that is inherent in an act of toleration while simultaneously upholding the positive values of care without contradiction? By engaging care ethics with John Locke’s (1632–1704) influential corpus on toleration, I answer the above question by building the bases for a novel theory of toleration as care. Specifically, I argue that care theorists can home in on an oft-overlooked aspect of Locke’s later thought: that the possibility of a tolerant society is dependent on a societal ethos of trustworthiness and civility, to the point where Locke sets out positive ethical demands on both persons and the state to ensure this ethos can grow and be sustained. By leveraging and augmenting Locke’s thought within the care ethical framework, I clarify how care ethics can provide meaningful solutions to moral disagreement within contemporary pluralistic societies in ways preferable to the capability of a liberal state.

1. Introduction

Care theorists have yet to outline an account of how the concept of toleration should function in their normative framework. This lack of outline is a notable gap in the literature, particularly for demonstrating whether care ethics can address moral disagreement within contemporary pluralistic societies. Care theorists certainly have the vision to do this—Virginia Held writes that “the value of caring that can be seen most clearly in such activities as mothering is just what must be extended, in less intense but not entirely different forms, to fellow members of society and the world” [1] (p. 89). Yet Held does not elucidate what should happen when this extension of care is immobilized due to moral disagreement. For instance, despite the United States’ Supreme Court 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that requires all states to issue licenses for and recognize same-sex marriage, various states still refuse to tolerate (let alone celebrate) same-sex marriage. Even five years after the Supreme Court ruling, the religious right continued to block attempts to remove same-sex marriage bans in Republican-controlled Legislatures in at least Indiana and Florida. How does care ethics leverage its conceptual resources to appropriately understand and respond to issues such as this? Are care theorists able to recognize the disapproval that is inherent in an act of toleration while simultaneously upholding the positive values of care without contradiction? In other words, what could a theory of toleration as care look like?
I address these questions by engaging care ethics with John Locke’s (1632–1704) thought on toleration. The reason for focusing on Locke is because there is a rich literature that care theorists can draw on here to begin their foray into developing a theory of toleration—not only within Locke’s own influential corpus but also in the voluminous secondary literature on Locke that has concurrently played a substantial role in shaping contemporary liberal theories of justice. Care ethics and Locke (and, by extension, liberal theories of justice) will diverge on some foundational conceptual schema, preventing care theorists from straightforwardly appropriating Locke’s thought (as I will later detail in this paper). However, there are still significant opportunities for care theorists to leverage Locke’s thought toward a theory of toleration as care. Specifically, care theorists can home in on an oft-overlooked aspect of Locke’s later thought: that the possibility of a tolerant society is dependent on a societal ethos of trustworthiness and civility, to the point where Locke sets out positive ethical demands on both persons and the state to ensure this ethos can grow and be sustained.
This paper moves in three steps. First, it traces Locke’s changing views on toleration over his lifetime, highlighting Locke’s later focus on the criteria needed for toleration to emerge in society: in essence, the need for a societal ethos of trustworthiness and civility. Second, I connect common ground between care theorists and Locke on the importance of this ethos and the role of the state in enabling such an ethos. An interesting discovery at this point will be that contemporary liberal thinkers (operating under the guise of ‘Lockean liberalism’) inadvertently reject Locke’s requirement for the state to play an active role in promoting the conditions for toleration to emerge. Third, then, I examine how care ethics can model a theory of toleration by drawing inspiration from Locke’s criteria for toleration to emerge—and, as an upshot, reveal that Locke’s criteria could be better realized within the care ethical framework. The resulting theory of toleration as care is defended as the preferable interpretation of toleration for care theorists to utilize moving forward. For toleration as care, the point of toleration is not for setting up a neutral space for peaceful coexistence (albeit in an uncomfortable modus vivendi). Toleration as care goes further, obligating the state and its residents to develop an ethos of trustworthiness and civility to build the space for sincere discourse and/or praxis that supports and maintains good caring relations.

2. Tracing Locke’s Thought on Toleration

Toleration, as generally understood in contemporary liberal theories of justice, refers to “the principle of peaceful coexistence where there are conflicting, incompatible, and irreducible differences in ways of life, practices, habits, and characters” [2] (p. 22). While care theorists have remained largely silent on how toleration ought to function within their normative framework, Daniel Engster [3] has been one of the few care theorists to address issues of toleration. However, I believe Engster’s approach does not provide a suitable outline for how care theorists should think about toleration—thus underscoring the need for a stronger theory of toleration as care. Engster’s approach is derived from his minimal definition of care. This definition of care is minimal because it restricts ‘care’ to only encompass three aims: (1) help “individuals to satisfy their vital biological needs”; (2) aid “individuals to develop and sustain their basic or innate capabilities, including the abilities for sensation, movement, emotion, imagination, reason, speech, affiliation, and in most societies today, the ability to read, write, and perform basic math”; and, (3) “helping individuals to avoid harm and relieve unnecessary or unwanted suffering” [3] (pp. 25–28). These three aims of care are reinforced through three virtues of caring: attentiveness (“Do you need something?”); responsiveness (“What do you need?”); and respect (“the recognition that others are worthy of our attention and responsiveness”) [3] (pp. 30–31). This minimal care definition informs Engster’s argument on the proper function of toleration: “Practices that effectively support adequate care for all individuals are moral, practices that impede adequate care are immoral, and practices that neither support nor impede adequate care are indifferent” [3] (p. 98).
The problem with Engster’s theory is that, when confronted with resolving non-trivial cases of toleration within a pluralistic society, the minimal care argument does not have anything of use to say. If the only aspect of a religious, cultural, and moral system that is considered by Engster is the minimal level of care provided to its members, then Engster’s theory becomes blind to serious cases of multicultural clashes that move beyond minimal caring. Consider, for instance, Engster’s comments on same-sex marriage. Engster is aware that the symbolic public gesture of legalizing same-sex marriage would legitimize this practice as “normal” in the realm of the viable options open to society. However, it is not clear that the minimal definition of care can capture the importance of this symbolic recognition. Engster even explicitly states, “The argument for and against symbolic recognition fall outside the scope of care theory” [3] (p. 108). As Engster continues, his care theory “is neutral on other issues of multicultural justice that do not directly affect the ability of individuals to give or receive care” [3] (p. 107). Consequently, Engster’s theory is silent on non-trivial cases of moral disagreement—cases that care ethics ought to at least recognize and have something meaningful to say about how they ought to be resolved. This is especially if care ethics aims to be a feminist ethic—that is, an ethic that can identify and critically evaluate instances of suppression and dominance.
I will argue that care theorists can generate a more robust theory of toleration, and that they can do so via an engaged study with prominent authors in the history of liberal ideas—specifically, Locke’s thought on toleration. Given that the main goals of liberalism “are the protection and the fostering of individual freedom and the limitation of justifiable coercion on the part of the state,” toleration constitutes an essential element of the liberal project [2] (p. 22). Typically, the evolution of this position is traced to Locke’s writings on religious toleration. Above being a seminal 17th century philosopher in the development of empiricism and medical science, Locke’s political works were an important precursor to liberalism [4] (p. xxxii). Typically, ‘Lockean liberalism’ is understood to have proclaimed “the irrationality of persecution, the neutrality of the state, and individual rights and equal protection” [2] (p. 23)—ideas that have become the norm in contemporary liberal democracies. For instance, Jeremy Waldron, on his influential reading of Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), writes that Locke’s position on toleration “is a negative one […]. Nothing is entailed about the positive value of religious or moral diversity” nor the role of the state in ushering such diversity [5] (p. 76). We can trace this history of neutrality to contemporary influential liberal thought, exemplified, for instance, in John Rawls’ idea of justifying principles of justice via overlapping consensus of differing values across society [6] (pp. 189–193).
Now, based on the current care ethical literature, it may seem initially odd to look to Locke for inspiration on building a theory of toleration. After all, care theorists have frequently targeted the above interpretation of ‘Lockean liberalism’ in their critical analysis of the liberal normative framework. For instance, Fiona Robinson critiques liberalism’s laissez-faire stance on the contractual role of the state in only enforcing negative rights—all of which, Robison states, is based on a faulty Lockean “ontology of atomistic individualism that privileges the norm of self-sufficiency” [7] (p. 50)1. However, I believe that care theorists have not questioned whether this interpretation of ‘Lockean liberalism’ is actually an accurate reflection of Locke’s thought. For even when some care theorists have argued in favour of caregiving operating within a liberal framework (such as Asha Bhandary’s liberal account of dependency care [9]), this understanding of ‘Lockean liberalism’ (especially as expressed by Waldron) has been taken at face value without critical analysis.
The reason for my above suspicion stems from Nicholas Jolley [10], Teresa Bejan [11], and others, who have recently argued this ‘Lockean liberalism’ is a caricature of Locke’s thought. Though Locke’s Letter is “one of the foundational documents of the liberal tradition,” Locke wrote several other important works that give broader context to his views on toleration [12] (p. 989). This not only includes the precursory Tracts on Government (1660–1662) [13,14] and An Essay on Toleration (1667) [15] that Locke did not publish, but three further letters Locke wrote in an ongoing exchange with critic Jonas Proast (throughout 1690–1692) [16,17] and Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Of the Conduct of the Understanding (1693) [18]. As suggested by the broad timeline over which these works were written, Locke had a “lifelong preoccupation” with the issue of toleration [10] (p. 4). Consequently, limiting our understanding of Locke’s thought to the most obvious work—the Letter—does not give us the whole story. For even then, the Letter is a loose English translation of the original Latin Epistola de Tolerantia—a translation by William Popple and published without Locke’s consent. If this were not enough, we do further disservice to Locke’s thought by only concentrating on particular sections within the Letter to generalize a specific ‘Lockean’ argument—an exercise that John William Tate has accused Waldron of doing [12]. It is also notable that one of Locke’s most well-known works on political thought, the Second Treatise of Government (1689) [19], does not even mention toleration—with Jolley suggesting that the Second Treatise is but a complimentary text to the Epistola and Locke’s subsequent letter exchanges with Proast [10]. Exploring texts beyond the traditional Lockean canon, then, provides a better context for understanding Locke’s complex views on the role of the state and the enablement of toleration in society.
This prelude has sought to problematize how we might traditionally approach Locke’s thought on toleration and the veracity of influential secondary literature. In what follows for this section, I follow Jolley [10] and Bejan [11] in outlining a more accurate evolution of Locke’s thought on toleration via his broader works and the context in which they were written. In turn, this tracing exercise will demonstrate where and why Locke’s thought has the potential to converge with care ethics.
Locke’s formative years saw the eruption of the English Civil War in 1642, a result of deep-seated conflicts between the Crown and Parliament over English governance and the manner of religious freedom between Christian denominations. By 1651, the Parliamentarians had beheaded Charles I and Oliver Cromwell began his Protectorate. The following year, Locke joined Christ Church, Oxford, to complete his B.A. It is perhaps no surprise, then, to find that Locke’s Tracts (written during his time at Oxford) reveal how impacted he had been by this political turmoil: “I no sooner perceived myself in the world but I found myself in a storm, which hath lasted almost hitherto” [13] (p. 7). What we also find in the Tracts, though, is that Locke’s early thought had considerable Hobbesian sympathies. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) had published Leviathan (1651) [20] at the end of the Civil War, a work representative of preventing future political upheavals via justification of legitimate political power centered in an absolute sovereign. Locke was among those students at Oxford during the 1650s who had read Leviathan and was particularly inspired by Hobbes’ latitudinarian arguments about religion [21] (pp. 238–239).
In the Tracts, Locke followed Hobbes in arguing that a magistrate ought to hold absolute authority vis-à-vis which religious practices were fundamental (fundamenta) and which were matters of indifference (adiaphora). Here, Locke believed that the Civil War was illustrative of what happens when such magistrate authority does not exist: worsening discourse between religious denominations leads to civil anarchy and religious fanaticism. For Locke, “this war of words had exacerbated spiritual, social, and political divisions and corroded civil society from within” [11] (p. 119). In particular, Locke initially believed toleration to be infeasible due the English having a propensity for being “ready to conclude God dishonoured upon every small deviation from [their] way of his worship [and] apt to judge every other exercise of religion as an affront to theirs” [13] (p. 42). Throughout his life, Locke maintained that religious enthusiasm was a bane of the prospect of a tolerant society, devoting an entire section to it in his Letter some thirty years later [22,23] (pp. 177–180). Hobbes offered the young Locke an eirenic hope through the guise of an absolute sovereign to regulate societal interactions. Without it, Locke was deeply suspicious of toleration emerging—that is, for persons of different religious denominations to behave peaceably toward one another in civil adiaphora. Locke’s Tracts outlined the means for bringing religious denominations together through the outward union of inwardly divided minds, enforced by a civil magistrate.
Yet, as the 1660s went on, Locke’s early intolerance began to mitigate. By the time of his writing the Essay in 1667, Locke’s thought had shifted from the Tracts. Contemporary Lockean scholars tend to point to biographical information to explain this change. In particular, Locke’s first extended leave from the Anglican walls of Christ Church to Cleves in 1665 left Locke astounded with how different religious denominations (Lutherans, Calvinists, and even Catholics) worshipped peaceably and publicly: “I cannot observe any quarrels or animosities amongst them on account of religion […] [They] quietly permit one another to choose their way to heaven” [24] (1.228). His move thereafter to a cosmopolitan London under his association with Lord Ashley (the future Earl of Shaftesbury), revealed to Locke that living with civil adiaphora was possible after all.
This realization triggered a crucial distinction Locke makes in his Essay, written as a memorandum for Shaftesbury and only privately circulated. Whereas in the Tracts Locke perceived incivility as almost necessarily accompanying religious disagreement, Locke now saw it possible for religious disagreement to exist in peaceable and civil circumstances. Rather than religious uniformity imposed by magistrate authority, toleration could be possible if persons had trust in one another to be peaceable in the face of religious disagreement—or what Locke referred to more strongly as the “Bond of Society” [25] (p. 132). If this bond should exist, in which persons trusted one another to remain civil in the face of religious disagreement, meaningful toleration could emerge from such conditions. Whereas Locke had initially followed Hobbes to focus on enforced outward civility, the Essay demonstrated Locke’s growing interest in the “beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions of individuals” [11] (p. 126). This emphasis on societal trust and the sincerity of the outward expression of one’s internal beliefs would mature over the next 20 years and take a prominent form in Locke’s Letter.
Despite these signs of Locke’s maturing thought, the Essay retained continuities with the Tracts. Locke still believed, for instance, that the magistrate should be allowed to govern what civil adiaphora looked like in the best interest of suppressing civil unrest—especially if any religious denomination’s signs, symbols, and worshippers, could be judged “numerous enough to become dangerous to the state” [11] (p. 148). Locke did not explicate in the Essay what counted as being dangerous—though, considering Locke’s introduction of societal trust, it is likely that ‘dangerous’ referred to that which caused civility between persons to break down.
In the 20 years between the Essay and Locke’s writing of the Letter, Locke was exiled for his suspected role in the 1683 Rye House plot to assassinate Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York. Yet, as Bejan notes, it is significant that Locke (like Hobbes before him), “wrote his most systematic treatment of toleration after an experience of exile—albeit in the commercial and cosmopolitan cities of the Netherlands” [11] (p. 127). In the Letter, Locke elaborated his distinction in the Essay between ‘religious disagreement’ and ‘incivility’, rather than conflating the two as he had done in the Tracts: “It is not the Diversity of Opinions (which cannot be avoided), but the Refusal of Tolerating those that are different Opinions […] that has produced all the Bustles and Wars that have been in the Christian World” [22] (p. 60). Furthermore, in a step that appeared to finally shake off his Hobbesian sympathies, Locke now argued that the magistrate should not have absolute control in civil nor religious adiaphora—an important move that sought to conceptually separate civil and church communities into different domains. Against Hobbes, Locke wrote that “there is absolutely no such thing, under the Gospel, as a Christian commonwealth” [22] (p. 42).
With this conceptual separation of church and civil communities, Locke moved away from his previous notion that toleration emerged as part of some minimal state enforcing legislation. Instead, Locke focused on toleration as emerging from individual behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and interactions with others. In the Letter, Locke now wrote that the “narrow Measures of bare Justice” would not suffice [22] (p. 20). Rather, toleration emerges as a possibility within civil society through the recognition that Christian “Charity, Bounty, and Liberality […] Equity [and] Friendship” must always mutually “be observed” by fellow citizens [22] (p. 20). In saying so, Locke emphasized the need for positive ethical demands to be placed on individuals to avoid the “rough Usage of Word or Action” and amplify “the softness of Civility” in disputes [22] (pp. 19, 23).
What is meant by the ‘softness of civility’ is contested, given that the phrase comes from Popple in his translation of the Letter (from the Latin Epistola) in 1689. However, some of Locke’s later works (including those that aimed to defend the Letter) provide insight into what ‘civility’ could mean here. Some Thoughts, in particular, is explicit in Locke’s definition of civility as part of one’s beliefs and attitudes, rather than a Hobbesian expression of outward politeness for the sake of mere modus vivendi. In Some Thoughts, civility is referred to as “that general good will and regard for all people which makes anyone have a care not to show [them] any contempt, disrespect, or neglect” [18] (p. 43). Civility was the “disposition of the mind not to offend others” [18] (p. 107). Maintaining toleration was about how disagreement was handled and not disagreement per se. While Locke’s elitism shines through in Some Thoughts (that civility concerned the social virtues expressed by a gentleman engaging in reasoned discourse in the appropriate manner), the overall point is a significant one: that resolving disagreement and maintaining toleration lay in teaching others (children especially) to “love and respect other people” [18] (p. 110).
Written while he assembled Some Thoughts, Locke’s Second Letter Concerning Toleration and A Third Letter for Toleration [16,17] make the full link between charity and civility for the basis of toleration. Composed in response to Proast’s criticism of the Letter, the second and third letters reveal Locke’s expanding global view and the possibility for persons of differing faiths (and not merely Christian denominations) to live peaceably together, including with “a rational Turk or Infidel” or “a sober sensible Heathen” [17] (p. 82). The Letter itself was quite clear that discrimination was not grounded on one’s religion: “neither Pagan, nor Mahumetan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the Civil Rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion” [22] (pp. 58–59). Locke’s emphasis on trust (or the worthiness of a person’s trust) that was first laid out in his Essay now became central to his argument for a tolerant society. In the second and third letters, Locke explored the conditions for such trust: namely, removing the binary of inward mental states and outward expressions. Instead, Locke defended the idea that one’s outward civil expression ought to be a sincere representation of one’s inner beliefs. Combining an outward expression of good faith and the sincerity of one’s internal beliefs would continually create and reinforce mutual trust “through the practice of disagreement itself” [11] (p. 137). That is, moral disagreement between persons could be tolerated via trustworthiness built by civil honesty and sincere discourse through the very act of disagreement.
Of course, Locke retained limits on toleration and who could be tolerated. This included not tolerating those whose beliefs would threaten societal trust in others, such as atheists (who threatened secure promises, covenants, and oaths if they believed no God was there to punish deviance) and Catholics (whose loyalties, Locke accused, were always to the Pope ahead of their country or fellow patriots) [4] (p. xiii). Yet the magistrate was not just there to enforce negative rights for upholding a tolerant society; Locke’s positive demands were also to encourage magistrates to change persons’ manners and dispositions instead of performing mere punishment [11] (p. 140). The magistrate was not intended to be a neutral supervisor but to set fellow citizens a good example for civil conduct and evangelism. The later Locke even considered state-sponsored evangelism, “cooperating with the church to ensure that citizens divided in their religious opinions would remain safely united through virtuous living” [11] (p. 140).
A tolerant society, then, was dependent on this ethos of trustworthiness and civility, in which toleration could only function if fellow citizens were able to trust one another to be civil during religious disagreement. In this, the role of the magistrate was not just to enforce the negative rights of persons by preventing harm that might emerge during disagreement; it was also to lay the groundwork for influencing the attitudinal mindset of persons to be sincere and respectful in their interactions with one another. Such sincerity abetted trustworthiness, in turn abetting civility in matters of moral disagreement.
In the context of toleration, then, the Locke we find at the end of this section is a thinker concerned with the bonds of society, trustworthiness and civility, and the role of the state beyond mere enforcement of negative rights. In siding with Jolley, Bejan, and others, I hope to have provided here some nuance that lays the groundwork for how care ethics could converge with Locke’s thought, decrying the ‘Lockean liberalism’ exhibited at this paper’s outset.

3. Engaging Care Ethics with Locke on Toleration

By focusing on the three points of concern listed at the end of the previous section (the bonds of society, trustworthiness and civility, and the role of the state beyond mere enforcement of negative rights), this section aims to demonstrate where Locke’s thought on toleration converges with care ethics in important ways. This is not to say that there is perfect convergence, whereby simply transposing Locke into the care ethical framework produces an out-of-the-box theory of toleration. What it is to say is that care ethics can provide the conceptual resources that Locke’s criteria require, including the source of obligation for why individuals and the state ought to build and reinforce an ethos of trustworthiness and civility. In turn, this will provide the foundation for a theory of toleration as care.
The first point of concern is Locke’s interest in the “Bond of Society” [25] (p. 132), which aimed at ensuring persons viewed others as having trustworthiness to be civil in the face of religious disagreement. On first reading, Locke’s concern appears to align with a standard liberal interpretation of the self—that is, we find the self as a vulnerable being situated in relations to others, requiring the state to shield their liberties and opportunities to pursue their life plan without hinderance. As Immanuel Kant later put it, the need for political society emerges from our interdependency of “living side by side” [26] (p. 96), whereby all our actions are potentially other-regarding. If we understand Locke to simply mean that the strength of this societal bond lies in the ability of the state to enforce negative rights to prevent harmful actions, then this liberal view holds. However, I think it is more complicated than this. It is not a mere connection from simply recognizing our actions are other-regarding; it is to promote “love and respect” for “other people,” particularly teaching children such behaviour [18] (p. 110). This moves beyond mere outward politeness for the sake of prudence and instead toward sincere concern for others and their wellbeing. Care theorists will find more in common with this view of Locke’s bond of society.
Within the care ethical framework, the self is perceived as being both situated in and constituted by their relations [27] (p. 152)2. To be a person is to be a “temporally extended embodied subject whose identity is constituted in and through one’s lived bodily engagement with the world and with others” [28] (p. 119). Though we are embodied in a bound and discrete body, the self is a node that emerges via its sociality with other persons, saturating our embodiment with meaning [3,29,30,31]. Relations do not just join us together; they weave into our very being. Now, I do not say here that Locke holds this relational view. There are genuine irreconcilable differences between care theorists’ relational view of the self and Locke’s (and the broader liberal framework’s) individualistic view of the self [32]. Yet there is still plenty of overlap between Locke and the care ethical framework on the importance of positive duties between persons for the functioning of society in meaningful ways. There is already a broad literature that care theorists have developed that emphasizes the importance of societal connection, alongside teaching others the importance of empathy, love, and respect. For instance, Michael Slote has argued that developing our empathic capacities in schools solidifies in children the moral obligations that we have to others beyond our nearest and dearest. One method is to expose “children to literature, films, or television programs that make the troubles and tragedies of distant or otherwise unknown (groups of) people vivid to them” [33] (p. 29). Another method is to “provide for more international student exchanges than now exist” to develop an understanding of distant other’s livelihoods [33] (p. 29). All aspects point to the possibility of toleration by way of understanding the other and our first interactions being ones of love and respect, rather than initial suspicion.
The value that Locke places on trustworthiness and civility comes to the fore here, as the second point of concern. Without trustworthiness and civility, the enterprise of toleration fails. It is significant, then, that trustworthiness and the components of civility form similar fundamental values for how care theorists assess the moral worth of relations—personal, societal, and beyond. Care theorists’ fundamental normative claim centers on our relational interdependencies of care: while we all need care, this by itself is not enough—we need an ethics of care, one that continually presses for the moral evaluation of care provision and receipt to avoid and prevent asymmetrical relations of power becoming “dominating, exploitative, hostile, mistrustful, or negligent” [1] (p. 37). In turn, this normative claim guides us toward identifying what moral values are intertwined in the activity of good caring, and what responsibilities emerge (individually and collectively) through these values to ensure our needs are appropriately understood, respected, and allowed to flourish [1] (pp. 31–33). There are four principal caring values: attentiveness, mutual concern, responsiveness, and trustworthiness [34]. Relations are identified as holding moral worth when they exemplify these caring values in fulfilling successful caring practices. We can call these relations “good caring relations” [34] (p. 70).
Locke’s reference to trustworthiness maps onto care theorists’ own understanding of trustworthiness. For care theorists, trustworthiness is a value exemplified when persons in a relation uphold certain normative expectations and do not pursue deceitful or hostile actions toward each other [1,35]. As Annette Baier has argued, activities of trust-building are mutually reinforcing, creating a “climate of trust” in which relations become increasingly meaningful over time [35] (p. 177). There are two different accounts of trustworthiness that can emerge here, which Karen Jones labels “risk-assessment” and “will-based” [36] (p. 68). A “risk-assessment” account of trustworthiness underpins non-intimate relations and is especially found in Hobbes’ thought. This view describes a minimal climate of trust in which persons expect others to act in a certain way because it is in these person’s self-interest to act in that way. However, care theorists do not fully subscribe to this risk-assessment view. Instead, care theorists are more amenable to the “will-based” account of trustworthiness, which follows Baier’s interpretation given above. This account asserts that trustworthiness emerges through a trustee motivated by goodwill towards another person—that the trustee actually cares for the trustor’s wellbeing. Whereas the risk-assessment account does not assume that persons care for each other intimately, the will-based account does assume the possibility of doing so.
While the early Locke can be charged with holding a risk-assessment account of trustworthiness (in his following of Hobbes), the later Locke appears to follow a will-based account of trustworthiness that enables the possibility of toleration to emerge. Here, the conditions of trust depend upon the outward expression of good faith and the sincerity of one’s internal beliefs. Enabling these conditions would continually create and reinforce mutual trust, concretizing the bond of society and forming the context for peaceable moral disagreement to exist. For care theorists, these conditions are then further exemplified by the value of mutual concern, which is expressed between related beings when there exists a shared, intertwined interest to make possible the cooperation required to develop and sustain association for the benefit of all involved [1].
The components of civility are also found in the values of care. We have seen that, for Locke, civility refers to the disposition of the mind not to offend others [18]. This definition is concerned with how to handle disagreement in appropriate ways such that doing so reinforces the bond of society. Civility, though, is subsumed into the values of attentiveness and responsiveness. Attentiveness, at its base, is the recognition of a need that requires attending to, and at most is a critical awareness about what psychological and social biases could be preventing the recognition of certain needs [30]. Without attentiveness, we cannot hope to understand the boundaries for where offense lies with others; critical awareness of knowing how one’s actions and words will negatively impact others are fundamental to the growth of becoming a civil person. Moreover, responsiveness refers to the ability of someone to respond to another’s needs and recognize how useful a response was to determine if one’s action(s) were well-received [30]. Handling disagreement relies upon one’s skill in navigating difficult conversations and recognizing when one’s response has aided or faltered discourse. Locke’s civility, then, forms close ties with the values of care and their requirement to create the space for toleration to exist.
The last point of concern references the role of the state in enabling these conditions for toleration to emerge. We saw in the previous section that Locke does place positive demands on a magistrate to encourage persons to change their manners and dispositions, setting a good example for civil conduct. We straightforwardly find similar recommendations within the care literature, though taken to a fuller extent. The state is understood within care ethics as providing the conditions for the successful cultivation of caring practices and values “in families, neighbourhoods, churches, the workplace, and voluntary associations of various sorts” [37] (p. 198). Though not a care theorist, Martha Nussbaum captures what is at stake for care ethics in the political context: “institutions teach citizens definite conceptions of basic goods, responsibility, and appropriate concern, which will inform any compassion they learn” [38] (p. 405). For instance, there is good evidence that supports a generalized fostering of trust among people through state funding of welfare programs to overcome economic inequality [39], alongside the promotion of pro-social behavior through featuring social emotional learning programs in young children’s curricula [40]. The state in the caring society is not neutral and actively supports the promotion of developing and sustaining good caring relations. In turn, good caring relations reinforce “the wider network of relations within which issues of rights and justice, utility, and the virtues should be raised” [1] (p. 136). This continuous feedback effect is vital for solidifying strong civic associations and social cohesion.
Importantly, the above remarks should not be read as if care ethics is built on faulty images of peace: “the ethics of care is quite capable of examining the social structures of power within which the activities of caring take place” [1] (p. 151). After all, care ethics recognizes and denounces patriarchal systems that create power asymmetries. The point for the care theorist is to uphold the moral standards of care and emphasize the ways in which caring practices can overcome violence or prevent it before it occurs. Such care is a central part of any good life and society; it is “the work we will do that creates the relationships, families, and communities within which our lives are made pleasurable and connected to something larger than ourselves” [41] (p. 89). A significant part of what makes our lives go better or worse, then, depends on how the interdependent relations of care that we are embedded in, and their surrounding institutional context, are structured. As Virginia Held puts it, “prospects for human progress and flourishing hinge fundamentally on the care that those needing it receive” [1] (p. 10). A major component of how this happens is the need for societies to actively “cultivate trust between citizens and governments; to achieve whatever improvements of which societies are capable, the cooperation that trust makes possible is needed” [1] (p. 42). In this way, the care ethical framework is preferable to the liberal framework in its defense of a caring and involved state that enables good caring relations to flourish.
Once more, this is not to say that Locke would advocate for exactly the same things that care theorists do with regards to the role of the state. Locke’s state is certainly more minimal in its involvement for setting good examples and promoting civil discourse3. Locke’s primary objective is prudence as peaceability, in contrast to care theorists, who see prudence as a means to good caring relations. However, the point is that both care ethics and Locke see a role for the state in positively building the conditions for trustworthiness and civility to emerge. Without the state’s involvement in such a way, a mere modus vivendi will not suffice for enabling toleration between citizens.
What this section intended was to demonstrate that care ethics holds the conceptual resources to meet the conditions Locke sets for the possibility of toleration. There is important overlap with societal connections, the values of care, and the state taking a positive role in enabling conditions for toleration (and not maintain a neutral stance). Of course, this does not yet create a theory of toleration within the care ethical framework, only that there is good plausibility for one.

4. Toleration as Care

Now we have seen that care ethics has the conceptual resources to meet Locke’s criteria for toleration to function, the pressing question is: why focus on care ethics and not liberal theories of justice? Given Locke’s influence on contemporary liberalism, it may seem odd to not consider how this paper’s outline of Locke’s thought can be integrated within a liberal framework. The answer, though, is that there has been a fundamental rejection in the contemporary liberal literature of the state taking positive actions in fostering an ethos of trustworthiness and civility between citizens. Instead, liberal theorists have tended toward ‘Lockean liberalism’, whereby the liberal state is said to only justify intervention if an individual’s rights have been violated in some form; otherwise, the state is difference-blind to pursuits of the good [42] (p. 644).
This rejection has been played out in liberal theorists’ critiques of Anna Galeotti’s theory of toleration as recognition [2,43]. Galeotti inadvertently channels Locke’s thought by attempting to justify that the liberal state should play more of a role in influencing the attitudinal mindsets of citizens. However, Galeotti has faced criticism that her theory is incompatible with a liberal state, precisely because the liberal state should not intervene to influence citizens mindsets—that is, the role of the liberal state should be to neutrally maintain a modus vivendi, intervening only when negative rights are threatened.
This section explores Galeotti’s theory and its criticisms, for two reasons. First, Galeotti’s theory takes steps that enhance the enterprise of toleration beyond Locke’s thought, developing the requirements for a modern theory of toleration. Second, given the rejection of toleration as recognition by the liberal framework, I argue that Galeotti’s theory can instead find a suitable normative home within the care ethical framework. With some remodeling and alignment of Galeotti’s theory within care ethics, a theory of toleration as care can be formed. Of course, at a future point, it is plausible to think that liberalism could reinterpret itself and eventually include toleration as recognition within its framework. However, as I argue later in this section, care ethics has unique conceptual resources that can enhance toleration as recognition beyond what the liberal framework could offer.
Galeotti’s theory begins by considering limitations to Locke’s thought on toleration—namely, for considering examples of moral disagreement beyond religious disagreement. As Galeotti points out, the scope of non-trivial moral disagreement in pluralistic liberal democracies is far broader, which any comprehensive theory of toleration should consider; that is, to acknowledge those cases whereby “the issue is not only perceived by the general public as highly controversial but as one which also requires the intervention of the state to settle it” [2] (p. 3). For Galeotti, the source of cases of intolerance in the modern day comes from “pluralism, understood as the coexistence within the same society of a plurality of groups and cultures with unequal social standing” [2] (p. 86)4.
Galeotti goes much further than Locke here in describing how moral disagreement emerges. For Galeotti, conflicts appear when a majority group contests an attempt by a minority group to publicly display their collective identity, creating a case that calls for political settlement by the state. The majority group is not understood in terms of membership number, but rather by the group’s power (by virtue of their dominant social position) to “define the characteristics, physical traits, habits, practices, and beliefs of other groups as deviant compared to their own, which they assume, implicitly, to be normal” [2] (p. 90). Minority groups then, are “socially constructed artefacts of the beliefs and perceptions of the majority” [44] (p. 294). As such, minority groups only become publicly distinct due to certain perceived differences that a majority identifies that group with. The majority then construes these differences as ascriptive, regardless of whether these differences genuinely are [2] (p. 89). With the majority group able to identify and label what characteristics and behaviors count as normal and what counts as different or threatening to the public order (and therefore prima facie intolerable), minority groups with different (supposed ascriptive) characteristics are pressured either to: (1) conform to the majority group’s norms, or (2) to only display their collective identity in private. This pressure has a serious upshot: the act of publicly excluding minority groups in this way “reinforces the feeling of humiliation and shame by keeping the different identities publicly invisible and socially marginal” [2] (p. 98). Consequently, due to these power asymmetries of group membership, minority groups become incapacitated to function as civic members, and involuntarily become perceived as a de facto second-class citizenry.
Galeotti thus acknowledges power asymmetries in society in a way that Locke does not. But the basis of the problem that Locke posed remains: the distrust of the other, which undermines civility and the possibility for peaceful coexistence. Indeed, Galeotti argues that contemporary liberal theorists that defend the difference-blind neutrality of the state cannot adequately discern this new source of non-trivial cases of toleration. As no negative rights are technically violated through the majority’s social pressure, difference-blind toleration does not have the resources to intervene and resolve societal mistrust. And yet, as Galeotti notes quite devastatingly, overlooking these group power asymmetries undermines the very principle of neutrality: by not recognizing differences in its citizenry and acting to accommodate for minority groups, the liberal state implicitly endorses the prevailing majority group’s norms—a state itself often represented “by cultural majorities” [2] (pp. 99–100).
Galeotti believes this problem can (at least begin to) be addressed through the state adopting a new conception of toleration: toleration as recognition. What this entails is the liberal state overcoming its difference-blindness and recognizing the differences of minority groups as legitimate options within a pluralist liberal society. What this theory calls for, then, is “redrawing the map of social standards” and developing the grounds for trust between different groups to emerge [43] (p. 102). The state pursuing toleration as recognition achieves this goal of legitimization through symbolic public gestures, to “signify the end of the public exclusion of certain social differences and certain identities” [2] (p. 105). Other than the literal freedom extended to minority groups through these gestures, they become symbolic because the “public visibility of differences that has resulted symbolically represents the legitimization of [the minority group’s] presence in public. In its turn, the legitimization of their presence in public signifies their inclusion in the public sphere on the same footing as those whose practices and behaviour are ‘normal’” [2] (p. 101). With the public presence of a minority group’s practice declared acceptable, this can begin to remove mistrust and stigmas attached to a minority group’s collective identity.
Galeotti argues that the theory of toleration as recognition can straightforwardly function within a liberal state. However, liberal critics of Galeotti disagree that this is the case. In particular, Sune Lægaard [44], Peter Jones [45], and Andrea Baumeister [46] have all argued that toleration as recognition is incompatible with the proper limits of the liberal state. The significant problem is whether, without any additional interventions by the state to alter a majority’s mindset, we can be sure that toleration as recognition provides the first step to achieve full social inclusion for minority groups. As Baumeister comments, “Conceiving of ‘toleration as recognition’ in purely institutional terms arguably falls well short of Galeotti’s aspirations. After all, it is difficult to see how, in the face of the majority’s grudging toleration, minorities could begin to feel genuinely respected” [46] (p. 108). State gestures of recognition only provide symbolic inclusion into the public sphere. As such, this recognition is not equivalent to full social inclusion. If toleration as recognition does end up requiring additional state intervention for minority social inclusion, does this theory remain compatible with the neutralist liberal framework?
It is Lægaard who explicitly expresses these above concerns as a genuine difficulty for Galeotti: “The question regarding the ideal of full inclusion into full citizenship is first of all whether it is plausible as an interpretation of neutralist liberalism, as claimed by Galeotti” [44] (p. 299). Here, Lægaard draws on Jonathan Seglow’s distinction between “wide” and “narrow” recognition [47] (pp. 83–84). Wide recognition concerns the “attitudes, perceptions and resulting actions of other people, i.e., dependent on social factors”; narrow recognition is the equal treatment of the majority and minority groups through the state, such as by legislation [44] (p. 304). Though toleration as recognition appears to fall under the narrow recognition label, Lægaard argues that this does not match Galeotti’s full aim: for minorities to fully access their citizenship (a feat that can only really be achieved under the wide recognition label). A tension thus arises in Galeotti’s thought: though Galeotti aims for wide recognition for minority groups, toleration as recognition can only be limited to the narrow range when operating within a liberal framework. For if one assumes that an extension of state policies “aimed at changing social attitudes toward minorities will be at least prima facie problematic on any recognizable form of liberalism, a commitment to wide recognition as a requirement of justice may therefore be problematic” [44] (p. 305).
Another concern with toleration as recognition that Baumeister raises is that Galeotti does not pay sufficient attention to the social and political processes shaping (dynamic) cultural practices that appear to require state recognition. Galeotti appears to have neglected “the impact of power relations within minority communities,” when deciding what the genuine meanings of a minority practice are [46] (p. 104). Toleration as recognition risks overlooking the fluidity of a collective identity and could inadvertently misrecognize an entire cultural practice through essentializing a perceived “authentic” trait of a minority, which the minority then rejects. For instance, are veils worn by Muslim women a symbol of patriarchal oppression, free choice of religious clothing, or otherwise? Without identifying how minorities themselves perceive certain practices, and the very power dynamics within the minority groups that shape how even they perceive the practice, this could have serious consequences. Misrecognition may cause the reverse intended effect of toleration as recognition, creating a backlash not only from the majority but various factions within the minority group as well.
Moreover, Galeotti’s focus on recognition may also appear to simply reinforce power dynamics between majority and minority groups. Kelly Oliver (though not referencing Galeotti) writes that the politics of recognition “makes oppressed peoples beholden to their oppressors for recognition, even if that recognition afford them political rights and improved social standing” [48] (p. 477). For even as we saw Galeotti state earlier in this section, those in political power are typically the cultural majority that ultimately retains the authority to grant symbolic recognition. It is not clear how toleration of recognition could respond to Oliver’s claim, either.
There is doubt, then, over the efficacy of Galeotti’s theory of toleration as recognition. Galeotti requires an obligation for the attitudinal mindset change of a state’s residents in accordance with symbolic recognitions performed by the state. Without both individuals and the state building and reinforcing an ethos of trustworthiness and civility, a tolerant society—short of a mere modus vivendi—remains unachievable. Galeotti implicitly relies on Locke’s criteria as a result. Yet, with liberal critics rejecting the demand Galeotti places on the liberal state, this ironically seems to cast a shadow on Locke’s thought in the process. Moreover, following Baumeister and Oliver, several improvements are required to critically acknowledge how power functions between and intra groups. However, all this does not mean we should do away with Galeotti’s version of toleration; perhaps what is required is for toleration as recognition to be remodeled in a different theoretical framework.
I argue that care ethics can provide the framework for the conceptual resources that Locke’s criteria require, while also being able to reshape and enhance Galeotti’s toleration as recognition. The immediate alignment with Galeotti is that care ethics acknowledges the key premise that toleration as recognition rests upon: asymmetrical relations of power exist between individuals and groups. We saw in the previous section that care ethics’ fundamental normative claim emerges from the recognition of power asymmetries operating within our relational interdependencies of care. If, as Galeotti says, non-trivial cases of toleration arise through unequal social standing, care ethics will not be difference-blind to this occurrence. Care theorists highlight the need to be attentive to the specific needs of others, which inherently requires the recognition of difference. To do so otherwise undermines the values of attentiveness and responsiveness at base. Moreover, if the task of the care theorist is to promote caring relations to allow civic capabilities and societal cooperation to occur in the political context, Galeotti shares the same goal of mitigating social tyranny to allow minorities full access to their citizenship. Galeotti can thus recommend to the care theorist that toleration as recognition can help fulfil these aims: to promote caring relations, minority groups ought to have their contested practice legitimized through a symbolic state gesture.
However, where care ethics moves to subsume toleration as recognition into its normative framework is its provision of the conceptual resources that justify the attitudinal shifts that wide recognition requires—resources that Galeotti implicitly relies on. Galeotti does not provide a justification that obligates a majority group to shift their mindset away from mistrust, despite a state’s symbolic recognition of a contested minority practice. Within the care ethical framework, such obligation is grounded in the need to support and maintain good caring relations. This obligation entails a state and its residents developing an ethos of trustworthiness and civility, which can in part be practically achieved via the social education policy examples outlined in the previous section. Given that we are obligated to exemplify the values of care in the fulfilment of successful caring practices, state recognition of a minority practice should be met not with mistrust but a need for both majority and minority groups to be sincerely attentive and responsive with each other. In turn, this builds trustworthiness and the space for sincere discourse and/or praxis to take place. This move, which remoulds and justifies toleration as recognition within the care ethical framework, grants its remodelling into a theory of toleration as care.
For toleration as care, the purpose of toleration is to build a space intended to support and maintain good caring relations. This entails several important acknowledgements that, while enabling toleration as a recognition, also provide further nuance to Galeotti’s argument. First, though moral disagreement may persist within a pluralistic society, all sides are obligated to contribute to building an ethos of trustworthiness and civility. As Locke saw it, it is possible to morally disagree while still behaving civilly toward one another with love and respect. Without this, we fail in our moral obligation to support and maintain good caring relations. Importantly, in the recognition of the power asymmetry between minority and majority groups, the burden falls on majority groups to contribute more to promoting this ethos. Minority groups, whose practices are already under suspicion from majority groups, will typically bear the most weight defending their practices with minimal resources available to them. This creates real harm over time to individuals within those groups—racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress from a cultural majority’s intolerance, for instance, erodes one’s “sense of self-worth,” leading to “anxiety, depression, chronic stress, high blood pressure [and] even symptoms of PTSD” [49].
Second, the space that toleration as care creates must recognize discourse beyond debate, discussion, or other argumentative speech-based forms. Iris Marion Young writes that restricting democratic discussion to critical argument assumes a culturally biased conception of discussion that tends to silence or devalue some people or groups. Parliamentary debates or arguments in court are not simply free and open public forums; “speech that is assertive and confrontational is here more valued than speech that is tentative, exploratory, or conciliatory” [50] (p. 124). Such norms of deliberation create mechanisms of exclusion, reinforcing class divisions of “better-educated” and culturally specific expressions. Young argues that additional modes of communication are required to broaden the space for communicative understanding across difference: greeting (“care-taking, deferential, polite acknowledgement of the Otherness of others”); rhetoric (“constructs speaker, audience, and occasion by invoking or creating specific meanings, connotations, and symbols”); and storytelling (“narrative fosters understanding across such difference without making those who are different symmetrical”) [50] (p. 129–132). Speech is not necessitated by these modes of communication, yet they provide important mediums for groups to strengthen the bond of society.
Third, toleration as care, supported by attentiveness toward difference, recognizes that intragroup identities also exist. Essentializing groups and cultural identities creates moral and legal problems for how groups can shift, merge, and change over time. The irony of this problem, Caroline Dick states, is that “identity-driven rights frameworks succeed in suppressing differences within minority cultural groups while masking the differences of the dominant cultural group that order institutional norms and legal rules” [51] (p. 195). To combat this, the focus of analysis should shift away from specifying a group’s “authentic” practices to the “control of identity and cultural reproduction” [51] (p. 195). Dick’s intragroup difference framework offers a solution to navigate this issue, recognizing that individuals can hold multiple group memberships that may experience oppression in one context but not another. This anti-essentialist stance must frame toleration as care, providing nuance to symbolic public recognition and recognizing who is actually participating in the construction of cultural, political, and legal codes. As Baumeister pointed out, Galeotti does not specify the significance of the politics of intragroup identities; toleration as care, supported by the values of care, does have the conceptual resources to do so.
The above responsibilities that derive from toleration as care may give the impression that care ethics is a demanding moral theory, in which the values of care obligate persons to evaluate and strengthen their personal and political caring relations. But care ethics may only look demanding because of its comparison to a non-interfering liberal state that does not demand these kinds of efforts from its residents. Indeed, this apparent moral demandingness is the main benefit of toleration as care: that the goal of toleration is toward promoting good caring relations that are foundational to the flourishing of a good life and society. For care theorists, the point of toleration is not for setting up a neutral space for (uncomfortable) peaceful coexistence. Instead, the point is to set up a space that enables trust building and good caring relations to develop.
With this argument now in place, we can revisit how toleration as care is preferable to the other approach to toleration within the care ethical framework: Engster’s argument from minimal care, discussed at this paper’s outset. We saw there that Engster’s argument is indifferent to symbolic recognition, with the example given of same-sex marriage. How does toleration as care compare? First, toleration as care has the conceptual resources to not only recognize the cultural power asymmetry between heterosexual and same-sex relationships, but critically evaluate how this power asymmetry emerged in the first place. Attentiveness as a caring value morally obligates us to pay attention to historical and potential current biases that have impacted the way a given society perceives same-sex marriage. In the build up to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, these biases typically included homophobic hostility and arguments from tradition. Toleration as care immediately tells us, then, that the symbolism of recognizing and institutionalizing same-sex marriage not only denounces relations of domination and hostility from historic heterosexual norms (religious-based or otherwise) but also acts as a celebration of enabling same-sex couples to exemplify caring values more strongly in their relation through consensual marriage. In doing so, same-sex marriage is recognized as a viable option open to society and reinforces good caring relations.
The question then concerns shifting attitudinal mindsets to accept this symbolic recognition. In this paper’s introduction, I gave the example of certain Legislatures in the United States refusing to acknowledge the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Fundamentally, this was a refusal of the religious right to shift their attitudinal mindsets to acknowledge same-sex marriage as a viable option open to society. Given that toleration as care requires a state and its residents to create the space for good caring relations to flourish, we are obligated to explore methods for how to best do so for recognizing same-sex marriage—especially the heterosexual societal majority, which bears the burden of obligation for such recognition. Brian Harrison and Melissa Michelson provide such methods, discovering that the best canvassers on behalf of same-sex marriage are those who share an identity with the intolerant audience—otherwise known as in-group messengers [52]. These canvassers do not need to necessarily be religious leaders; they could be in-group influencers, as was the case with a Catholic elderly couple’s viral video that urged the yes vote for same-sex marriage in Ireland. Toleration as care builds the space for sincere discourse and/or praxis, which establishes toleration as the first step toward stronger societal caring relations and overarching acceptance.
Before concluding, a potential criticism of toleration as care should be addressed. This criticism is presented by John Horton, who argues that a modus vivendi may be the best option a tolerant society ever has when dealing with hard cases of genuinely irreconcilable differences between groups. Horton writes that, “to ask people to be more inclusive and mandate indifference is to fail to take seriously the less comfortable implications of conflicts between values and ways of life that are mutually antagonistic” [53] (p. 299). A tolerant society “may not be a very comfortable society,” but it is one that at least recognizes the authenticity of differing negative viewpoints [53] (p. 303). How can toleration as care respond to this objection?
Care ethics never denies that antagonistic relations exist; the purpose of toleration as care is to foster an environment in which antagonistic relations can function peacefully within society toward the goal of building and sustaining good caring relations over time. It may be that some differences are truly irreconcilable between groups. However, this limbo does not prevent caring relations from developing, at least in part. Relations are not one-dimensional (according to a single moral disagreement) but multifaceted. It is quite possible for toleration as care to allow people with moral disagreements to begin cooperating successfully within various civic associations, despite their differences. The trust building that develops here is a basic one of each side learning that they will not be undermined by the other. But through this basic trust as a foundation, stronger displays of civic attentiveness can begin to be made over time with support from a wider caring society. It is to begin with the minimal basis of a risk-assessment account of trustworthiness, with the view that a will-based account is always possible to strive for. If the choice is between a society that only believes a mere modus vivendi is possible (by Horton’s own admission, an uncomfortable society) and a society that actively wants to foster caring relations and its associative caring values at the personal and political level, then the latter is preferable. In this way, a theory of toleration can emerge.

5. Conclusions

In this paper, I sought to engage care ethics with Locke’s thought on toleration. The purpose for doing so was to build out the foundation for a theory of toleration as care—a theory modeled not only on Locke’s criteria for toleration to emerge in society but also Galeotti’s toleration as recognition. For toleration as care, the point of toleration is not to set up a neutral space for peaceful coexistence (an albeit uncomfortable modus vivendi). Toleration as care goes further, obligating the state and its residents to develop an ethos of trustworthiness and civility, building the space for sincere discourse and/or praxis that supports and maintains good caring relations.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


I am grateful to Elizabeth Brown for her detailed review of an early draft of this paper, which strengthened my arguments in key areas. I also thank Richard Vernon for his graduate course on toleration that deepened my understanding of John Locke’s thought, alongside introducing me to contemporary literature on the subject. Last, I am appreciative of the constructive feedback provided by Maggie Fitzgerald and Maurice Hamington, alongside incredibly helpful suggestions provided by two anonymous reviewers.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Robinson’s critique is not to downplay the importance of rights-language per se, only that the positive responsibilities of care we have to one another have been often overlooked and discounted by liberal thinkers in favour of negative rights. For further reading, see [8].
The idea of the “relational self” is shared with communitarian political theory. However, there are important differences between communitarianism and feminist philosophy (and care ethics specifically). For a discussion of these differences, see [3] (pp. 10–11).
As seen most explicitly in Locke’s Second Treatise [19].
Galeotti does not denounce difference-blind toleration as an obsolete approach for resolving individual moral disagreements. As will be shown, all Galeotti means to say is that difference-blind toleration cannot explain what is genuinely at stake between non-trivial cases of toleration arising between groups in pluralistic societies.


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Randall, T. A Care Ethical Engagement with John Locke on Toleration. Philosophies 2022, 7, 49.

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Randall T. A Care Ethical Engagement with John Locke on Toleration. Philosophies. 2022; 7(3):49.

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Randall, Thomas. 2022. "A Care Ethical Engagement with John Locke on Toleration" Philosophies 7, no. 3: 49.

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