Example of argumentative essay on relativism and morality: goodmans some moral minima

Goodman mentioned about the American courts’ decision to overturn statute that they deemed unconstitutionally vague and related kinds. However, in case of laws based on customs, he said that they fail the criteria of universality. But then again, his stand was that moral relativism might exclude some values as inherently part of one’s cultural background. Nonetheless, for him, what is basically wrong, cannot in principle, be above consensus even among the majority of a particular group or society. Thus, the number of individuals cannot make a wrong right. Here I agree with Goodman because he unequivocally treated his claims with fairness by citing well-established facts.
Despite Goodman’s equally valid claims concerning moral relativism and universality of some values, he stood fast and firm to his thesis that there exist some moral minima. There is what he termed as compromise to loosen up demands and rigorousness on the other hand. Hence, he succumbed to the idea that even “ with the best of intentions,” universal formulations of values remain bound by peoples’ culture . Hence, he defended his assertions that principles remain as principles despite anything to the contrary (such as in unanimity). In this portion of Goodman’s article, I am ambivalent as to completely accede with his statements. He believes in some moral minima, but he has not provided a complete picture of what he meant by minima and cultural diversity. He was simply adamant to his idea of wrong as wrong and right as right without an inkling that a moral minima may also turn out to be the opposite of the case for people who have dissimilar views compared to him.
For Goodman, consent (or consensus) helps individuals or leaders in a society for any actions that they may undertake. He cited Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and others regarding their brutal actions or crimes against humanity. Yet, even with their comrades and people behind their ruthless acts, they themselves conceding; thus, somehow legitimatize their leaders’ wrongdoings. As such, it is, for Goodman, a naturalistic fallacy to make intersubjective agreement or unanimity the test of any universal normativity. History has proved many times over how some political acts were indeed injurious, wrong and unjust. The aforementioned statements, nevertheless, remove from the equation the inseparability of customs and institutions from life’s fabric as norms do their practical works. In this part of the article, it is true that political leaders resort to unjust acts, but it is part of their political propaganda and tactics to advance their cause even with an iron hand. Only through subjection under the power of a ruthless ruler are people made to relinquish their freedom not to take action contrary to their leaders’ ideology. Likewise, people are powerless to fight the oppressor cloaked in the name of nationalism.
Goodman’s expository proper concerns “ human deserts [that] are irrefragable” because they are so. He based his arguments on historical accounts and Jewish sources. The traditionally honored norms of the Israelites, especially, concerning the absoluteness and sanctity of their norms, made him amenable with the inherent universality of the areas he covered, namely: (1) germ warfare, genocide, and politically-induced famine; (2) child warriors, hostage taking, and terrorism; (3) incest, polygamy, and slavery; and, (4) rape and clitorectomy. He argued that a “ claim to life” is a demand for “ deference to deserts” . For my part, the category under incest, slavery, and polygamy seem to be poorly aligned. Incest is a taboo and it is not the same as polygamy. Polygamy is permitted under some cultures because it is the case. Goodman did not also presented sufficient amount of research findings to back up his claim why, culturally, polygamy is as exploitative as incest. Muslims are polygamous that is part of their tradition and religion. To say otherwise will make his claim the one that is inviting misunderstanding and cultural intolerance. He would have been correct if he cited only specific cases or examples by not making a generalization. Although he talked about moral relativism, the focus of his paper is, nonetheless, on some moral minima.
In Goodman’s arguments, he also mentioned the various implications of an ethical “ thou shalt not.” He elaborated on the wrongness of mass murder, warfare, racial prejudice, and other sorts of inhumanity. In terms of genocide, warfare and politically-motivated famine, Goodman labeled them as “ least common denominator” and “ murder to a higher power” . For him, they are all wrong because they largely target humanity. For this part, Goodman is making a hasty generalization because, in war, even the lives of innocent people and children might also be rendered as sacrificial lambs. For example, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during World War II, to end the war means taking a quick action despite the number of death tolls.
For Goodman, some terrorists (such as suicide bombers) act out of nihilism or the vacuousness of their values that were created for them. He explicitly mentioned how terrorism becomes a tool of policy. He said how people and society become confused with the acts of terrorism that impairs normal operations (e. g., election, economies, etc.). Despite of this lamentable condition on the part of innocent people affected by this insidious act, there are people who turn out as sympathizers and some of these criminals are even “ rewarded, beatified” . Here in this portion of Goodman’s writing, he is correct in his analysis of the impact of terrorism among those directly affected by it. Despite of his explanation, there could be other surrounding circumstances why some individuals become suicide bombers. It could be that they are doing the act because their loved ones are held hostage by terrorist groups.
In continuation, Goodman stated that incest, slavery, and polygamy are where a person becomes a means to an end –a tool for exploitation. The victim becomes stripped of “ her agency,” hopes, interests, etc. Her capabilities and aspirations in life become a subordinate to the one who wields power over her. Because human beings can have multiple purposes, the abuse becomes much grievous on the part of the victim. For Goodman, polygamy (and those within this category) as inherently bad, especially for women; thus, bad for humanity, as a whole. In this particular instance, Goodman is again generalizing. For Muslims or those who exercise polygamous practices, it may not be the case that polygamy is inherently bad, especially among women. There are women who are married to affluent men. In this case, if most of the wives of the man have children with him, there should not be any cause for envy because that is how their ways of lives are and that is precisely how society culture is to them.
Goodman’s fourth and last area is regarding rape and genital mutilation. For him, these act and practice violate the will of the person. He considered rape both as a sexual and power crime because perverts snatch out a person trust and reason for intimacy. Clitorectomy removes from women their orgasm, sexual, and marital satisfaction. Hence, whenever Goodman looks at these humiliating and dehumanizing acts, they are “ always wrong” . I agree with Goodman’s latter statement, but disagree with the former, especially when he mentioned about statutory rape . Although wrong, an adult aged 18 years old who had coitus with a 17 year old girl can be charge of statutory rape even when the latter consented to it. Parents, upon knowing the incidence, may either go on with the charges or wait until their daughter come to legal age. So, the analogy or classification made by Goodman on rape and clitorectomy do not form a fit. In cases of genital mutilation, it is true that it is entirely different from the male circumcision because the flesh that is being removed is considered a bad flesh. It can be a cause for diseases to breed and then to transfer in a woman having sex with an promiscuous, uncircumcised man.
In summary, I agree with most of the arguments and claims made by Goodman. It is true that people should at the most adhere to common standards of morality. The universal ethical principles of what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong is ideally the best way morality ought to be viewed. However, in the events of expediency, even virtuous individuals (e. g., heroes, martyrs, saints, etc.) may succumb to what is best for oneself and other people. Not all global moral principles are without moral relativity. Ethics, in principle, is subject generally to intersubjective valuing depending on a person or society’s situation, not to mention the culture, mores, tradition, and other contributory factors.


Goodman, L. E. (2010, November 1). Some Moral Minima. The Good Society, 19, 87-94.