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A Multicultural Social Ethos: Tolerance, Respect or Civility?

Sune Lægaard

The paper addresses theoretical questions about the meaning, possibility and normative desirability of a multicultural social ethos. A social ethos is one informing the social interaction among people, not only in formal institutional contexts, e.g. in relation to the state, but also in informal everyday contacts, e.g. in civil society. It is not obvious that reference to values is necessary for characterising a social ethos. Instead, the paper focuses on a social ethos that is multicultural in the senses that it addresses the problems, e.g. of inter-group tension, discrimination and harassment, arising from the diversity of values and cultural plurality characteristic of multicultural societies, and that it is required by normative theories of multiculturalism. The paper considers the specification of the character or content of such a multicultural social ethos, and discusses the possible relationship between it and toleration, civility and decency as social virtues and characteristics of social relations. These issues are relevant to European integration both in the sense that European states are multicultural societies, and in the sense that the EU advocates (at least some forms of) multiculturalism.

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