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Lenn Goodman's "Some Moral Minima"
Lenn Goodman's essay "Some Moral Minima" cannot be said to fail in the usual sense, because his argument is not strictly faulty, only irrelevant. He argues that certain things are inherently wrong, which in the case of his argument is true but only because "right" and "wrong" are meaningless concepts, given use when applied to an event that itself gives them meaning. In fact, any notion of "morals" is by definition made-up, so any argument about right and wrong morals is as supportable with evidence as an argument about the relative combat capabilities of any given Jedi in the Star Wars series. There is supporting evidence, but only in the fictional universe in which the concepts exist. Therefore, Goodman's critique of relativism succeeds, but only in replacing one faulty conception of reality with another.
This essay will argue that "Some Moral Minima" suffers from faulty assumptions regarding reality, rather than morality, because it does not seem useful to engage a false dichotomy on its own terms. This is why the argument in which Goodman engages is actually between the notion of "morality" as something other than human evolutionary cultural creation and the realization that concepts like morality only exist as creations of human consciousness and language. Thus, the relativism Goodman critiques is in fact just another iteration of the same faulty thinking, because neither Goodman's position nor the relativism he presents acknowledge the fundamentally fictional nature of the topic under discussion. "Fiction" here should not be taken to mean something derogatory or irrelevant, but rather to acknowledge that while human action and thought has absolutely no bearing on the fundamental functioning of the universe, and draws no inherent guidance from it, human thought has constructed meaning in the face of the universe's amorality, and at this historical moment the human species has evolved such that it functions for the greatest benefit of the whole species and its constituent organisms when certain patterns of optimal behavior are recognized and accepted, which from time to time are fetishized and worshipped as "morals." In short, there is no meaning except that which is created, so any argument about which meaning is more "true" that does not recognize this fact is fatally flawed.
In order to better demonstrate Goodman's lack of self-awareness when he makes his proclamations as to right and wrong, it will be necessary to examine those declarative moments when Goodman thinks he is proposing his moral minima. "Murder is wrong because it destroys a human subject," Goodman states before continuing on with his discussion of genocide, state-induced famine, and germ warfare. In the first word of this sentence Goodman already misses the point. Of course murder is wrong, not because "it destroys a human subject," but because the word "murder" contains "wrongness" as an integral part of its definition (Goodman 89). The series of chemical and physical actions and reactions that precipitate the death of a person have no moral weight, whether or not those actions include electrical impulses in the brain of a second person. If, however, those processes are considered within any number of the linguistically-limited conceptions of reality created by the human species, then those processes may be categorized within one of those linguistically limited conceptions as either "right" or "wrong." Goodman never acknowledges that this is the case, so when he scales up his basic assumption that "murder is wrong" in an attempt to identify the first of his moral minima, his problems expand exponentially. "Why is mass murder any different from a criminal's slaying a marked victim? Why is genocide uglier than murder? The answer lies in the intent, not just the scale of the crime […] Genocide is a denial of our common humanity. It raises the horror of murder to a higher power by negating not only individual but shared aspirations" (Goodman 89, 93). That genocide is generally distasteful to humans can be explained much more simply if one considers the manner in which all events are given meaning by humans; that is, considering the reception of genocide with a proper understanding of the rules that govern that reception.
Put simply, because all human meaning is generated from the interaction of symbols humans have generally agreed to mean…[continue]
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