Richard Marshall interviews Joseph Raz in 3:AM Magazine:
3:AM: One of the ideas you have argued for(in your 2000 Seeley Lectures)is that we ought to accept the legitimacy of difference. So you think someone can reasonably approve of normative practices that are positively hostile to each other, but that only commits one to respecting both positions and not engaging with them. Is that right, and if it is, doesn’t non-engagement itself suggest a lack of respect?
JR: Accepting, or respecting difference is of course code. What we should respect are practices, styles of life, ideals and aspirations that are valuable, or that have some good, some value in them, and we should respect them for that reason (even when we have a very imperfect understanding of their value). I put it like that for pure gold is rarely found in human affairs. Our lives are wrought of alloys of mixed quality elements, some inferior or even seriously flawed. Human practices that have value often also enshrine prejudice or superstition, and perpetuate objectionable discriminations or exclusions. In saying, as it were, that that’s life, I do not mean that we should be complacent about the unworthy aspects of our practices, or those of others. On the contrary, I suggest that we should not be complacent and should try to identify the less wholesome aspects of our own practices, as well as in those of others, distance ourselves from them and strive to rectify them.
So one reason why it is important to know about and to have a balanced view of practices we have no intention of sharing is that understanding them is close to being a precondition for understanding ourselves and our engagements with various practices. The recognition of the value in what is strange or alien to our ways anchors our humanity, protects us from smugness and intolerance. Our knowledge of and respect for other people’s practices also creates for us the opportunity to change, to come to engage with people who might otherwise appear strange or worse, and possibly also to find that we can acquire a taste for the practices that initially were so alien to us – that is the second main reason for seeking to understand and for coming to respect the value of those practices. I am not suggesting that we should for ever be looking for new friends, or for a change in our activities and tastes, merely that it is good to have the option, and the option is made real in part through understanding what it is like to take it.
In the preceding comments I emphasized the barriers between people and the hostilities that sometimes accompany them that are bred by ignorance leading to narrow and misguided understanding of the range of activities and practices that can contribute to human fulfillment, to the quality of our lives. I also implied that being unaware of the shortcomings in our own practices may well contribute to such hostilities.