An Investigation of the Contributions of Plato and Aristotle to the Development of the Concept of Toleration

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2003-12-05

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Title of Dissertation: AN INVESTIGATION OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF PLATO AND ARISTOTLE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPT OF TOLERATION Bican Sahin, Doctor of Philosophy, 2003

Dissertation Directed by: Professor Charles E. Butterworth Department of Government and Politics

This dissertation is about the concept of toleration. It asks: "Did Plato and Aristotle contribute to the emergence of toleration?" This question is important because it is widely believed that the concept of toleration is a product of modern times. If it can be shown that although they did not have an explicit theory of toleration the ancients had something to say about it, this would be a significant improvement in our understanding of the historical evolution of toleration.

In the first part of the dissertation the relationship between skepticism and toleration is analyzed. The examination of the theories of knowledge of Plato and Aristotle shows that neither philosopher was a skeptic, thus, they did not contribute to the emergence of toleration on the basis of skepticism. While Plato fits the definition of the "dogmatist," Aristotle has a more modest stance in his claims of knowledge in the fields of ethics and politics. To the extent that Aristotle does not reject other views absolutely, it can be expected that he would be more tolerant.

In the second part, the relationship between prudence and toleration is examined. Upon a close examination of Plato and Aristotle's moral and political views, it becomes clear that Plato emphasizes harmony and order in both individual and society and to that extent rejects conflict that can be caused by moral and/or ideological differences. Thus, he does not have a prudent approach to conflict emphasizing stability and peace rather than harmony. On the other hand, Aristotle exhibits a prudent stance towards conflict in the polis. Although he also has an ideal view of politics in which conflict is minimized, Aristotle does not dismiss less than perfect political arrangements. By requiring the citizens to be ready to have consensus only on the matters that concern everybody, Aristotle's concept of political friendship provides a private sphere in which the citizens can experience their differences. In this regard, on the basis of prudence, Aristotle's concept of political friendship is similar to the modern concept of toleration in terms of not enforcing uniformity among the citizens.

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