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Advantages and Shortcomings of Conventionalism

Advantages and Shortcomings of Conventionalism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify the intuitiveness, advantages, and shortcomings of conventionalism

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Hi. I'm Glen, and this is the ethics tutorial on advantages and shortcomings of conventionalism. Let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind and then examine the content for this tutorial. Let's keep in mind that the definition of conventionalism, its assumptions, and the basics of the cultural differences argument.

All right in this tutorial, we are going to be looking at some of the intuitive and counter-intuitive results of conventionalism, we will be looking at the issue of there not being intercultural or cross-cultural evaluations, and then some examples to help us understand these points.

Like other ethical theories, there are intuitive and counter-intuitive results that come from utilizing conventionalism. When we base morality on the conventions of a society or a culture, then there are certain conclusions that just make sense, those are intuitive. And there's other ones that don't seem to make sense, and we would question, and those are counter-intuitive. Here's a couple of examples to help us understand these.

For example, let's say you are a chef and you work in a professional kitchen, therefore your actions and behaviors are guided by the conventions of that particular location and its objectives. So it makes sense, it's intuitive that you would have to wear a particular uniform to keep yourself clean.

You might have to restrain your hair so that it doesn't get into the food. You'd have to keep your hands clean and wash them repeatedly. You'd have to wear slip-resistant shoes, perhaps a side towel, and even gloves where appropriate. All of these things make sense according to the conventions of that location. So they are, therefore, intuitive.

A counter-intuitive example could be the following. Let's say you're dining at someone's house in Japan. And you're aware of Japanese customs in dining and how you sit and what utensils you use, and so you're expecting chopsticks. Yet when you sit down to eat dinner, you're presented with a knife and fork. This would be counter-intuitive to the way that you would assume the right way to eat food in Japan would be. So here are these examples to show us both intuitive and counter-intuitive results from understanding what we ought to do based upon culture.

Another issue that comes up with conventionalism has to do with the lack of intercultural evaluation, or we could call it cross-cultural evaluation. Another way of saying that is that we can't judge other cultures by our culture's standards. That would be the most intuitive way to do it, and the most natural way to do it, but it's not fair.

If we're going to grant cultural relativism and say that it could lead to moral relativism, and therefore, other cultures can't judge our culture by their standards, well, then we can't turn around and judge theirs by ours. This can sometimes put us in a difficult position, especially when we disagree strongly with something another culture might do.

For example-- this is a rather dramatic example but it works. We can't judge other cultures on their practice of genital mutilation by our standards in this culture. It's not practiced in the United States, it's not accepted in the United States, and the United States typically condemns other cultures for practicing it. However, that's a violation of the cross-cultural evaluation.

We're really not allowed to do that if we abide by conventionalism. We have to take the position of the other culture and see how that particular action plays out. This presents difficulty then, because if we still want to maintain that this practice is immoral, that it's ethically bad, we're going to have to find some other way of doing it rather than saying we as a culture, don't like what you as a culture are doing.

So this presents a real difficulty that the conventionalist needs to take into account. So in this tutorial we looked at some of the intuitive and counter-intuitive results of conventionalism and also a serious issue that arises from the lack of intercultural or cross-cultural evaluation and how we're not really allowed to judge other cultures by our standards, especially if we don't want them to do the same to us. And then a couple of examples helped us illustrate these points.