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Support for Conventionalism

Support for Conventionalism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify common arguments in support of conventionalism

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Hello I'm Glenn and this is the ethics tutorial on areas of support for conventionalism. Let's first look at a couple key things to keep in mind as we go through the tutorial and then we'll look at some topics that we will be covering today.

In this tutorial, we're going to be covering two main areas of support for conventionalism. One is called the cultural differences argument. And we will look at the basis and the implications of this position.

And then we're going to look at some historical and linguistic foundations that also lend support for conventionalism. And these will rely primarily on the idea of normalness, or that which is normal. And of course, we will have some examples throughout to better illustrate these points.

The first form of support that we're going to look at regarding conventionalism is called the cultural differences argument. And I'm going to present it in terms of an argument form. That is the statement of a rule or a general idea and then the presentation of a fact. And then looking at the relationship between the two premises, we're going to derive a conclusion from them. And so this is how the cultural difference argument works.

First, we're presented with the premise that, if there were objective moral truths, then cultures would not differ on questions of morality. Next premise-- cultures do differ on questions of morality. Putting these two together, having them work together, we derive the conclusion, therefore, there are no objective moral truths. And morality is relative to culture.

We can see how this plays out in terms of two examples. In the United States in 2016, it is immoral to jail and execute someone for being gay. In Iran in 2016, it is morally acceptable to jail and execute someone for being gay. These are two different conclusions that come from the support given from cultural differences argument. Morality is relative to culture.

So what this means, if we look at it from another perspective, is that truths of ethics are not like the truths of math and science. Math and science transcend culture, time, and place because they are not culturally dependent. They are not socially dependent.

They are dependent more on abstract rules and laws. 2 plus 2 equals 4 is the same all around the world. But when it comes to the truths of ethics, especially from a conventionalist point of view, these differ from culture to culture.

Another area of support for the ethical position of conventionalism is the historical and linguistic considerations. In both of these cases, we are relying upon an idea of normalness. And an easy way to think about the word "normal" and how it can be applied, especially in ethics, is that normal is simply what you and I are used to. And this is especially relevant for a cultural and conventional perspective because normal can mean normal for your region of the country, normal for your family, normal for the language you used, normal for the idiosyncrasies of the language of your part of the country. It can come down to all of these things-- just what you're used to.

And so a couple of examples to support this-- I happened to be in Wisconsin. I grew up in Wisconsin. And it's normal for me to refer to a Diet Pepsi or a Coke or a Diet Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper-- they all are under the same heading of pop.

That's normal for me. And it's supporting conventionalism in terms of linguistics-- it's how I use a word-- and also historical because that's how I've been using it and my parents have used it and my grandparents use it. So there's a time support there as well.

And in that same topic, I've also lived in Atlanta. And I noticed that in Atlanta it doesn't matter what the soft drink is. They're all referred to as Cokes. So in Wisconsin all soft drinks are pops. In Atlanta, they're all Cokes. And that is how both historical and linguistic foundations can support the position of conventionalism.

And continuing on that idea of normalness, we can also see that, given the way we use words and history behind it, that which we considered to be normal is usually equated with what is good, and abnormal is bad. This is a normal-- it's normal. It's a normal way of looking at the word "normal." So let's look at three examples to see how good is normal and bad is abnormal.

So let's say we get our blood sugar tested, and our blood sugar comes out to a normal level. Normal is good. That means my blood sugar level is within an acceptable range.

If my blood sugar turns out to be abnormal-- let's say it's way too high-- that would be bad and possibly indicating the condition of diabetes. So normal is good. Abnormal is bad in terms of blood sugar testing.

The use of the word "gay." If I use the word "gay" to simply identify a homosexual male, well, then that's the normal use of it. If I use the word in a derogatory way to refer to a situation I don't like, that would be an abnormal use of the word, and it would be bad.

And then let's look at a context of eating spaghetti. And this again comes from my own experience in reference to a particular roommate I had at one time. A normal way to eat spaghetti is with a fork. Use the fork to bring the pasta to your mouth and eat it. And this, since it's normal, is good.

An abnormal way to eat spaghetti would be to not use any utensils and simply put your face into the bowl of spaghetti, squirm around, and try and eat it only with your mouth. Now, it may not be inherently bad. But it certainly is abnormal.

And when I saw my roommate doing this, I certainly did question what was going on. So in all of these cases, we can see that normal tends to be that which is good. Abnormal tends to be that which is bad, or at least highly questionable.

In this tutorial-- sorry, I'm still laughing about the spaghetti. In this tutorial, we looked at a couple of areas of support for conventionalism. And one of them was the cultural differences argument. And the other were the historical and linguistic foundations for understanding what is normal and abnormal. And then in our three examples, we looked at how abnormal is usually equated with what is bad, and normal is equated with what is good.