Monroe-Paine Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs: Dr. James Gibson

Dr. James Gibson

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Abstract:  For considerably more than a half a century, serious social scientists have been investigating the question of what causes political intolerance. Unfortunately, only a limited number of clear conclusions emerge from this formidable body of research. Perhaps one of the impediments to developing a program for converting intolerance to tolerance is the possibility – suggested by some evolutionary psychologists – that xenophobia – the fear of the different – may be naturally selected by evolution for its survival value. Scholars have considered the issue of how intolerance might be converted to tolerance – how it can be “unlearned” – although most results are discouraging. In this presentation, I review the various mechanisms by which intolerance might be unlearned. I pay particular attention to the role of universities in this process, and to the many controversies that currently threaten to undermine a culture of tolerance within the academy. I conclude by reconnecting political tolerance to liberal democratic theory, although in a minimalist version of democratic theory in which the main obligation of the citizen is to support unrestricted political discourse among competitors for political power.

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