The Multivisions of Multiculturalism

Publication Date


Document Type

Conference Proceeding


The questions suggested by the term “multiculturalism” range far and wide, embracing: questions of inclusion; questions of criteria; questions of self-identity; and questions of the meaning of multiculturalism. In this essay I provide a framework: (i) that allows us to begin a discussion that might answer such questions; (ii) that illuminates why it is that such a modest aim is the most we can hope for at this time; and (iii) that provides an understanding of what we can do in a multicultural world in order to illuminate what we should do. This framework will reject both the idea of toleration as found in Berlin’s conception of human choice and will speak of as maximal multiculturalism, an orientation that is found in John Milton’s idea of truth as variegated and that sees multiculturalism as a great good. These views are plagued by at least three paradoxes that are really inconsistencies. In their place I develop the idea of a mitigated multiculturalism based on fear rather than on any ideal or vision, and with this a distinction between positive and negative toleration. Negative toleration proves to parallel a classic Hobbesianism, which while an unwelcome result, paradoxically, provides further direction and reason for hope that mitigated multiculturalism can and must be surpassed.

Original Citation

James, E.W. (1998). The Multivisions of Multiculturalism. Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy (Boston, Massachusetts, August 1998). Available at: http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Poli/PoliJame.htm