Tolerance is more than putting up with things – it’s a moral virtue

. My own research with my students shows the best indicators and predictors of tolerance to human diversity are fairness and empathy.

Fairness and empathy are also very closely connected to moral development and reasoning. They are fundamental to any coherent moral philosophy.

Empathy and morality

Psychologists such as Johnathan Haidt believe empathy is the most important motivator for moral behaviour. Others such as Martin Hoffman argue empathy is a motivator of prosocial and altruistic or unselfish behaviour.

Empathic people are sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. They are able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes or understand how it would feel to be treated badly. Placing oneself in someone else’s shoes is the essence of tolerance.

My research shows that people of all ages including children have a strong sense of fairness and empathy towards others different from them in colour, creed or culture. They reject prejudice and intolerance between 70% and 80% of the time affirming tolerance based on fairness and empathy.


Rivka Witenberg