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Applying Conventionalism

Applying Conventionalism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, apply conventionalism

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Hi. I'm Glenn. And this ethics tutorial is on applying conventionalism. First, let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind throughout the tutorial and then we will look at the topics we are going to cover.

So in this tutorial, we're going to focus on examples of intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results that come from applying conventionalism. And then we're going to look at a general sense of an ethical position that conventionalism will take on three contemporary ethical issues. And after we consider those, we'll take a step back and think about, well, if we accept conventionalism's stance on these ethical issues, then we probably will accept conventionalism. But if we don't like the results, then chances are our tendency would be to reject conventionalism.

So let's look at some examples. That's the easiest way to see how conventionalism plays out in terms of intuitive and counterintuitive results and so forth. So intuitive results-- remember, intuitive means that the results make sense. They are widely accepted. We might even want to call them common sense.

So one intuitive result of conventionalism is the general idea that murder is wrong. Many specific cultures view murder as wrong. And in a general sense, we also view it as wrong. It's also conventionally accepted and intuitive that we generally want to eat food with some sort of food-eating instrument like a fork or chopsticks or something. And in general, it's intuitive that we use something to eat.

Counterintuitive results are those that are not widely accepted, or we could say they're widely rejected. They just don't seem to make sense on a big scale. So in some cultures, it is forbidden for women to drive a car and drive a vehicle. This is conventional and specific towards a given culture. However, widely in a very big picture, it doesn't seem to make much sense.

In some cultures, freedom of speech or freedom of the press is forbidden. And yet, sort of in a general sense throughout the world, this doesn't quite make sense. It seems to be actually sort of accepted.

And then we have ambiguous results. And in ambiguity, remember, is where we have more than one answer, more than one result. So we can look at within the United States, if we take that as the conventional culture, abortion is seen as both permissible and impermissible depending upon where you are and whom you're talking to. Also another example from within the United States is that it is OK to carry a concealed weapon in some places, but it is not OK to carry it in other places. So we can see the conventionalism has results that are intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous.

Now let's look at three specific applied ethical issues and see how conventionalism helps us form a general sense of where right and wrong fit in, or in these cases, sometimes right and right depending upon the context and the convention that we're using. So let's take the business ethics topic of whistleblowing. Let's say an employee is wondering whether or not whistleblowing is a good idea.

Well, from the conventional perspective of the culture of management in a corporation where the goal is to keep things running smoothly and abide by the rules, whistleblowing is probably not looked upon as a good idea. But from a cultural standpoint of the employee where let's say there might be a compromise of safety towards others, doing the right thing might be seen as whistleblowing. So in both of these cases, we have conflicting points of views on how conventionalism will handle it.

Let's say we have the contemporary issue of whether or not we should continue mining fossil fuels. Well, if you're living in West Virginia and you're from a family that has for generations been coal miners, yeah. It seems that, from that particular culture, it's a good idea to keep on mining fossil fuels that it maintains a lot. But if you taken from the cultural standpoint of, let's say, France, which is largely-- actually mostly-- runs on nuclear power, the mining of fossil fuels means little to them. So again, we have conflicting points of view depending upon the culture.

And then a third issue. Let's say we are questioned whether or not animals should have rights. From the cultural standpoint of industrial farming, it's useful to not have the view that animals have rights. If you're a member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, then yes. You probably will want to view animals as having rights.

And to add one little more level to this, let's say you work in a zoo where you want to simultaneously preserve the species, but you realize you're keeping them caged up against their will. Well, then yes and no from that even one perspective. So we can see from all of this that conventionalism really does give us very specific answers that can often be in conflict with other answers just on the point of view of the culture.

And the culture can be as big as a country. And it can be as small as a business or a community of like-minded people or a family. It depends on where that comes from. So if we accept all of these as potentially, oh, yeah-- they all could be correct-- then probably, we lean towards conventionalism. If we think that this creates too much conflict and there's too many right answers, then probably we're going to lean towards rejecting conventional wisdom and probably favor a different ethical theory that we would like to abide by.

OK. In summary, we have looked at how conventionalism, when applied, yields results that are intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous. And then we got a general sense of how an ethical verdict would come down from conventionalism regarding the three specific contemporary applied ethical issues.