Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Commitments of Conventionalism
Take your pick:
Commitments of Conventionalism

Commitments of Conventionalism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, identify the commitments of conventionalism

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

314 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on commitments of conventionalism. First, let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind and then cover the content for this tutorial.

OK. In this tutorial, we are going to be looking at many examples in how conventionalism plays itself out in actions that are permissible, impermissible, obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. And after we cover all those examples, we are going to look at a specific situation, a bunch of actions that could arise from that situation, and then how it can be evaluated according to the norms of conventionalism.

First, let's look at permissible and impermissible as general categories of actions. With all of these examples, you want to start it with the phrase, given conventionalism, dot, dot, dot. OK. So given conventionalism, permissible actions would be those that are simply not forbidden relative to a culture.

So for example, in the United States, it's perfectly permissible to greet someone by waving your hand. You don't have to do this. You're not told not to do it.

It's permissible. It is also permissible to own a firearm in the United States. These actions are not forbidden.

In contrast to that, forbidden actions are those that are impermissible. And relative to a culture they are the ones that we cannot do. So an example of an impermissible action would be owning a firearm in Japan. It's not allowed there.

Another impermissible action would be being a homosexual in the country of Zimbabwe. It's not allowed. So both of those are impermissible actions. They are forbidden.

Then we have the set of permissible actions which are categorized under obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. Remember, we're always defining this in the negative as we saw in the key terms. An obligatory action is where we are forbidden not to do it. Another way of saying that is we must do it.

So in terms of conventionalism in the United States, it is obligatory to follow traffic laws. Also within the conventional context of a professional kitchen, it is obligatory to wear slip-resistant shoes. Neutral actions are those that are neither forbidden nor obligatory relative to a culture.

So for conventionalism, here are two examples. A neutral action in the United States would be whether you use public transportation. It's not forbidden, but it's not required. Also if you need to wear contacts or glasses, it's neither forbidden nor required to wear a specific one if you work at a desk as a receptionist. It's a neutral action.

Then we have supererogatory. And here for conventionalists, it is what morally exceeds what is obligatory still relative to our culture. So if the culture-- let's say Christian United States understanding is that we should give money to charity. We should help those in need. A supererogatory action in that relative context would be giving all of your assets to charity.

In the context of the military, a soldier sacrificing his or her life for another is based upon the military obligation to help and protect fellow soldiers. It's within that context, in that culture. However, it does definitely go beyond and above what is obliged to do.

Now let's look at a particular example with a bunch of possible actions and see how the position of conventionalism will address and assess each of these actions in terms of permissibility and so forth. So let's look at the following table. Here is the situation. You're sitting at a stop light. The light turns green. There is a car in front of you at the intersection, and the car doesn't move.

The context for this-- since it's conventionalism, we definitely need to know the context-- is that you're in rural Mississippi. And in that context, certain ethical values are good to know. In this particular area, politeness is paramount. Rudeness is very bad.

Everyone and everything does operate at a slower or more comfortable pace. And patience is a virtue. Put all these together, and you get an idea of the value system that you're operating under. And I'd like to point out I used to live in rural Mississippi. So this comes from my own personal experience.

So you're sitting in this car. And you're waiting to see what's going to happen. And you have several options of things you can do.

You can honk your horn. You can honk your horn and yell at the driver. You can get out of your car and attack the driver. You can get out of your car and strike up a friendly conversation. Or maybe you're just going to wait patiently.

All of these are possible actions sitting at this light as it has turned green and the car in front of you not moving. Well, here's how conventionalism will assess those possible actions given the context of being in rural Mississippi. Honking a horn is a poor option because rudeness is a bad idea and honking your horn is rude. So if you do that you're a jerk.

If you honk your horn and yell, it's even worse. If you get out and attack the driver, obviously this is going to be a terrible, terrible option. Although, and this is interesting, getting out of your car and striking up a friendly conversation is actually permissible, it could even be supererogatory. But you could be creating a dangerous situation, so you might not want to do that.

But however, I have seen this happen. So I understand that it's actually a permissible situation. It's kind of interesting coming from the north.

And then the best option, of course, is to wait patiently. No one probably ever died from old age sitting at a stoplight. So this is how conventionalism would assess this example given the context.

So in summary, we have looked at some of the commitments of conventionalism as they play out in terms of permissibility and impermissibility and then supererogatory, obligatory, and neutral actions. And then we examined how conventionalism would address a particular situation and a range of potential actions within that situation always remembering that, for conventionalism, we are considering the context as being our foundation standpoint.