Respect One and Respect Two

I gather that Brian Leiter is thinking about this subject too.

I am wondering whether any readers know of literature making the case for toleration of religion qua religion. What has struck me in reading the literature is that while religious toleration is often a paradigm case for discussions of toleration, the arguments for it are not specific to religion: arguments from autonomy and well-being would equally well encompass toleration of many other kinds of belief that are not religious in character…What I’m wondering is whether there are other articles that try to argue why religion in particular should be tolerated, arguments that make claims appealing to distinctive features of religious belief and practices. Or as Macklem frames the question: “What is it that distinguished religious beliefs from other beliefs, so as to make them worthy of distinctive, perhaps superior constitutional protection?” That, to my mind, would be an argument for religious toleration.

It looks as if there aren’t very many, and as if those there are aren’t very good. Which won’t surprise us much, I should think. It is apparently just what I’ve been saying for a long time: it’s just an unargued, assumed, longstanding, habitual asymmetry that everyone takes for granted but that doesn’t have much justification. Religion is a special case. Yes, but why? Dunno – it just is.

Let’s consider what Nussbaum says, again. From the earlier comment:

But to claim that freedom of speech promotes truth in metaphysics and morals would be to show disrespect for the idea of reasonable pluralism, and to venture onto a terrain where one is at high risk of showing disrespect to one’s fellow citizens. Mill is totally oblivious to all such considerations. He has none of the delicate regard for other people’s religious doctrines that characterizes the political liberal…In On Liberty he does not hesitate to speak contemptuously of Calvinism as an ‘insidious’ doctrine…One may sympathize…without feeling that he understands the type of mutual respect that is required in a pluralistic society. I agree with Rawls: such respect requires (in the public sphere at least) not showing up the claims of religion as damaging, and not adopting a public conception of truth and objectivity according to which such claims are false.

What does ‘respect’ mean there? What is the mutual respect that is required in a pluralistic society, and that requires us not to show up the claims of religion and not to adopt a conception of truth and objectivity according to which such claims are false?

Respect means at least two different things, I take it. One, it means basic civility, politeness, the right way to treat people; decency, good behavior, not shoving people or spitting on them or calling them rude names. It doesn’t require thinking the people are nice people, or interesting, or right about anything – it doesn’t require any opinion of them at all. That’s not the point. The point is that the default mode for how to treat people, unless they’re approaching you at speed with a sharp sword or trying to take your lunch and eat it themselves, is to be civil. That’s respect one; respect two is quite different. It’s cognitive, and substantive, and involves judgment; it has content, it’s about something, it’s earned in some way. That means it can’t possibly be universal, or automatic, or a default mode for how to treat everyone; or mandated, or expected or demanded. But Nussbaum seems to be demanding respect two in addition to or even instead of respect one. Well, that’s ridiculous. And not only ridiculous, but surely a recipe for mental abdication and vacuity. I don’t see how one could even begin to implement such a program without giving up thinking of any kind. Especially given that last terrifying clause – ‘and not adopting a public conception of truth and objectivity according to which such claims are false’. Eh? Such respect requires us not to adopt a public (B&W is public) idea of truth in which such claims are false and wrong? Well then respect requires us to adopt no conception of truth at all! To just bag the whole idea!

Respect one is a good thing, but Nussbaum’s expansive idea of universal entitlement to respect two and its entailing the non-disagreement with religion, seems to me to be an intellectual nightmare.

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