All this talk of tax avoidance and morality is slightly annoying to me. And it’s for two slightly pretentious reasons:
1 I’m a chartered tax adviser and I know about tax.
2 I’m a philosophy graduate and I know about moral theory.
Yeah, pretentious. And not really valid:
1 Everyone (supposedly) pays tax and has as much knowledge of the financial imposition. Knowing how you add up the numbers ain’t that special.
2 I wasn’t exactly Bertrand Russell.
So, I’ve resisted the urge to cite Kant’s categorical imperative. I did declare that I thought the criticism of Chris Hoy was nonsense, but I don’t think it (the story – I’m not that egotistical) caught significant public attention anyway.
But, Jimmy Carr’s story, and subsequent apology, reminded me of Jean-Paul Sartre and his moral imperative.
Sartre’s imperative states something like any action you take you should consider that mankind observed and used it as a guide. It’s similar to Kant’s categorical imperative in that it’s substance is sort of “what if everyone did that”.
But the imagery of everyone looking down on a single action and evaluating it for its moral worth… Well, I imagine that Carr could tell us what that feels like.
On a philosophical level, the imperatives have criticisms that all situations are unique, so it is impossible to infer a general rule. Or my take is, to use Kant on Kant, to infer a priori values using synthetic a priori knowledge doesn’t work. It requires elements of a posteriori knowledge. Blah blah blah.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s what I was thinking about.
But I think the morality of tax avoidance is more complex than applying general principles. I think the facts of any situation differentiate how you apply those principles.
Much the same as in taxation, then.