Morality and Relativism

The world has thousands of cultures and practices that make universal agreement on some issues difficult. This is because people from different cultures tend to view same issue differently. As such, relativism holds that there is nothing wrong in the world but instead, everything is subject to the interpretation of individuals in relation to their culture. However, morality argues that some things are just universally wrong and therefore cannot be justified on grounds such as culture, religion, and belief. This begs the argument as to whether indeed some things can be considered, without the fear of contradiction, to be universally wrong or as relativism states, there is simply nothing wrong in the world. This paper analyses Lenn Goodman’s argument against relativism in Some Moral Minima and further explores the challenges that Goodman presents to relativism. The paper terminates with an opinion whether there exist universal moral requirements.

Cultural and religious differences across the world have led to justification of practices that, to some can be seen as weird and pervasive. For instance, the issues of same sex marriages continue to cause emotions among some cultural groups, especially, from Africa. While same sex marriage is seen as something right by some cultures in the West, some cultural groups vehemently detest this practice and see it not only as pervasive but also unnatural. This paper discusses whether issues that are raised by Lenn Goodman in Some Moral Minima that certain things are simply wrong from whichever angle one may want to look at them from.

Lenn Goodman groups of things that are regarded as universally wrong are certainly not arguable in terms of relativism. For instance, he points out genocide, germ, and politically induced famine warfare in the first group. Others include terrorism, hostage taking, and child warriors, slavery, polygamy, and incest and finally, rape and genital mutilation. Looking at this list, one is likely to argue successfully that no culture in the world can successfully defend the practicing of any of the above atrocities. Yet, these heinous practices, which self-evidently smack a universal wrong, continue to be practiced in the 21st century where issues of morality are known better than before. Thus, if indeed some practices are universally wrong as Goodman argues, why are the same things widespread across the world? Relativism then, finds a ground to defend its argument that nothing is wrong in the world and whether something is wrong or right, it all depends on the cultural interpretation.

However, Goodman’s dispute that some things are simply wrong rests in the list that he gives. For once, it is not exhaustive and two the context in which they occur can justify whether they are wrong or right. For instance, polygamy was justified in some cultures, especially where the number of women exceeds that of men in a society. The practice of polygamy was accepted in Africa until the arrival of the western culture that criminalized the practice. Relatively, polygamy is still justifiable in some cultures and those who practice it cannot be punished under any law. In my opinion, Goodman is right only as far as he gives his explains for those practices. Elsewhere, some cultures can successfully argue for supporting some of the things that Goodman considers wrong. What I may ask is whether there is a person who determines moral that should be regarded as universal requirements.

However, Goodman’s exposition in Some Moral Minima presents the issue of morality to relativism. Morals are inward characters that human beings possess inertly without them even having to learn. For example, it is immoral for people to practice genocide or rape because they affect the dignity of other human beings. Yet relativism would argue that such heinous acts would be justified in some cultures. In this regard, Goodman reveals some of the issues that relativism cannot explain or justify culturally or religiously.

Universal moral requirements exist naturally in the world and thus I highly think that human beings can achieve them. One of the most interesting universal moral requirements is the handshake that is almost acceptable in every culture. People all over the world shake their hands as a sign of peace, even though some cultures are yet to accept it fully. However, it is agreeable that inasmuch as people would want to divide themselves through politics, culture, and race, color, gender or religion, certain things compel them to be united morally. Similarly, issues such as lying and stealing presents a dilemma to relativism, in that no culture or religion has embraced stealing or lying as a good practice. Instead, people are aware that the world condemns these practices as evil and perpetrators are liable for severe punishment by law.

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