In Lenn Goodman’s “Some Moral Minima”, the author argues that certain things are simply wrong and hence, they cannot be defended by the theory of moral/ethical relativism. Here, ethical relativism holds that morals are relative to an individual’s cultural norms. This implies that the wrongfulness or rightfulness of an action is determined by the moral norms of the people who practice it. That is, an action can be morally right in one society while it remains morally wrong in another. Accordingly, ethical relativists argue that there are no moral standards, which can be applied universally to serve the interests of all people at any one time. Therefore, it follows that a society can only be judged by its own moral standards. However, Goodman challenges the arguments presented by ethical relativists by stating that certain things in the society are simply wrong. This paper provides specific examples in favor of Goodman’s arguments against ethical relativism besides showing that universal moral requirements do exist.
According to Goodman (2010), there are certain things or actions, which are morally wrong across different societies and cultures. Here, the author explores a number of areas including genocide, terrorism, slavery, and rape, which are morally wrong whichever way one looks at these practices. For instance, the author argues that genocide, famine, and germ warfare are morally wrong because they affect the life of living beings. Accordingly, it is arguable that cases of genocide (mass murder) are wrong because it is universally acceptable that murder is morally wrong. But, Goodman (2010) argues that genocide is more wrong than murder because it targets people’s lives on the basis of race, culture, ethnicity, and class. Moreover, genocide is simply wrong, unfair, and dehumanizing regardless of whether the society, situation, or culture allows it. Yet, ethical relativists may argue that genocide is right if it serves the people who practice it. On the other hand, genocide goes hand-in-hand with politically-instigated famine and germ warfare. The harmonizing feature here is that genocide, political use of famine, and germ warfare target humanity at large. Therefore, despite that these actions have defenders across cultures and societies, it is important to note that they are morally wrong because they destroy humanity, spiritual growth, morality, and socioeconomic development.
Along the same perspective, Goodman (2010) argues that terrorism, hostages, and the use of child warriors are actions that can be viewed as being morally wrong. Here, the author argues that terrorism is morally wrong in the society because it involves indiscriminate violence that causes the loss of many lives. However, ethical relativists may argue that terrorists are right in their actions because they are fighting for certain values upheld by their religion and culture. But, it is important to note that the same terrorists tend to go against the same values that they are fighting for. This is because at the end of the day, bloodsheds and mass murders cannot justify whatever ends or values favored by the terrorists. So basically, terrorism is wrong because it targets noncombatants and it aims at destroying lives and intimidating people. In the same way, hostage taking and the use of child soldiers are morally wrong because they violate human dignity by treating human beings as means to an end or just as objects (Goodman, 2010). In fact, any action that causes physical/moral helplessness, isolation, anger, fear, and poverty cannot be classified as morally right whichever way one looks at it.
Further, Goodman (2010) indicates that slavery, polygamy, and incest are morally wrong in the contemporary society. Accordingly, the author notes that slavery is morally wrong because it violates human dignity by treating people are tools for use. Moreover, as opposed to murder (which destroys life at once); slavery is very destructive and manipulative to the extent that it keeps its victims under continuous suffering. This is because slaves are generally referred to as undocumented people or aliens in many countries including the United States, and hence, most of these people experience unimaginable violence, unsafe/unhealthy work and living conditions, and the increased risk of disease and death (Goodman, 2010). In the same way, polygamy exploits human beings, especially when women are treated as acquisitions, objects, means of reproduction, and domestic workforce. Although, ethical relativists may argue that polygamy is acceptable and right in many societies because women have the right to enter and leave polygamous marriages at any time. Furthermore, polygamous marriages are well provided for in different customary laws. But, looking at the bigger picture, polygamy is morally wrong because it depersonalizes human subjects and reduces them to mere objects or means to an end.
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Generally, considering Goodman’s arguments from the foregoing discussions, it is important to note that certain actions are simply wrong in different societies based on some universal moral requirements. This contradicts the theory of ethical relativism, which states that morality is relative to people’s cultural norms, and hence, there are no universal moral standards. But, as it can be deduced from the discussions above, some moral requirements must exist for certain actions to be classified as being universally unacceptable and wrong. In fact, considering the case of Nazis, one will agree that universal moral requirements do exist. Here, many people in different cultures will agree that the actions of Nazis were morally wrong despite that the perpetrators of mass murders were following their own morality. This implies that despite the existence of a variety of moral practices according to different cultures, people do share some common morality practices hence the need to view certain things as being morally wrong. On the other hand, both abortionists and anti-abortionists may agree that murder is morally wrong based on some universal moral standards, but disagree on whether abortion can be classified as murder and hence morally wrong. Therefore, there exists universal moral requirements, which guide the actions of people across different cultures, and thus, moral relativism is not convincing enough.