Public debate Wednesday 30th October 2103. 7pm (sharp) to 9pm. Doors open at 6.30pm Channing Hall, 45 Surrey Street, Sheffield S1 2LG
Outwardly, we live in a society that appears more open-minded and tolerant than at any time in our history. Indeed, we are frequently reminded of the need to understand the importance of respecting different cultures, beliefs and ‘diversity’. Individuals or organisations deemed to be ‘intolerant’ now provoke widespread moral condemnation and censure. The widespread celebration of ‘tolerance’ across the spectrum, from David Cameron to the European Court of Human Rights in countless public statements and declarations, is testament to the rhetorical appeal of a concept that is now seen as being synonymous with being ‘non-judgemental’.
However, the promotion of ‘tolerance’ today can sometimes appear to embody contradictory values. Hand in hand with the 21st century culture of tolerance there appears to have grown up a parallel culture of public intolerance toward people whose beliefs contradict this new, conventional wisdom. The statement ‘I am tolerant of everything but intolerance’ has gained widespread acceptance, as have demands to restrict the freedom of speech and expression of those whose views we might find offensive. Calls to ban the public expression of ideas by those considered racist or homophobic (or who mock religion) are also paradoxically couched in terms of defending tolerance and diversity.
So, should we be ‘tolerant of everything but intolerance’ and accept that freedom of thought and expression have very definite limitations? Or, does tolerance mean having to live with the thoughts and words of others with whom one might vehemently and fundamentally disagree? Put another way, and to paraphrase a biographer of Voltaire, is it a question of disapproving of what someone says, but defending to the death their right to say it? Might it even be possible to learn positive lessons from those whose ideas we find objectionable and to consider that in these morally uncertain times there might be many ways to the truth?
These are some of the questions which will be raised at this special collaboration between Sheffield Salon and Off The Shelf. Come along and be part of an ongoing conversation between the people of Sheffield and respected commentators and academics in the fields of the arts, science, medicine, sociology, philosophy, politics and history. Over the past two years the format of Sheffield Salon events has varied according to our subjects, but always centres around the concept of this being an exploration of meanings within a topic, with many points of view, rather than being merely a ‘talking heads’ session of experts.
Angie Hobbs (Professor for the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield and contributor to BBC Radio 4s In Our Time, the Today programme and Radio 3s Night Waves)
Anthony Milton (Professor of History, University of Sheffield and founding editor of Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain).
Frank Furedi (Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Kent, commentator and author of Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? and On Tolerance: In Defence of Moral Independence.)
Information related to this message is available at http://www.sheffieldsalon.org.uk/2013/08/tolerating-intolerance/.