Tax avoidance and bit of ethical inconsistency?

I always like a proper discussion about morality, so I had a bit of a read of Richard Murphy’s post on tax avoidance and ethics today. It has to be said that I found his viewpoint a bit of a contrast to what he has previously argued.

I posted the following comment in response to his post but subsequently thought I ought to copy it here as Richard’s blog is infamous for swallowing comments:

I ought to remind you that back in the Accountancy Age debate you dismissed morality as a matter of individual opinion when I talked to you about it. You argued in favour of a highly subjective moral theory and I’ve since assumed that you were quite the relativist.

 

Most of the above is incompatible with what you said at that time. Most of what you talk about supports objective moral theories.

 

Kant’s moral theory, for example, is very objective. I think that some of its defining characteristics, such as the categorical imperative, are actually synthetic a priori in their formulation and not necessarily pure reason, but Kant nonetheless argued that moral rules were binding in all circumstances.

 

This means that it is morally unacceptable to fail in a duty of care you have undertaken (such as in a engagement letter or contract), even if the outcome of fulfilling that duty of care would result in an undesireable outcome for you personally.

 

Morality is often only cited when it aligns to people’s own interests and I think that it should be considered that effectively making decisions on behalf of a client, whether for moral reasons or through neglect, is not morally defensible. The actions of the claimant in Mehjoo case might be considered immoral, but it doesn’t affect the worth of the actions of the defendant.

 

Which is rather the point of the case, I feel. Rule of law is not arbitrary and we shouldn’t overlook transgressions of law, or morality, merely because they happen to individuals we might not care to see receive justice.

The Accountancy Age debate I was referring to is here. The specific comment I was thinking of was in the comments section rather than in the main body. “Dismissed” is probably a bit of a harsh term, but I got the feeling that he didn’t particularly want to talk much about moral theory. Or Starbucks. (He never replied once I answered his questions)

I’m of the view that morality, if it means anything beyond mere opinion, must be objective. Many people are quick to dismiss others’ moral arguments on the basis of being “just opinion” or being concerned with self-interest. By doing so they undermine their own arguments when they attempt to argue anything objective.

Whilst comments such as my own might can seem to be nit-picking, one of the ways which people analyse moral arguments is through analysing how others’ apply their principles in reality. Normally in a situation where they have shown to have an apparently contradictory stance.

In my experience, people who engage with that sort of conversation show a fundamental awareness that morality is an end in itself. It suggests to me that they are genuinely interested in what is moral.

People who don’t engage with that sort of conversation are often simply using morality as a means to an end.

Not always. But surprisingly often.

 

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About Ben Saunders

I'm a Chartered Tax Adviser and a freelance writer. This is my personal blog about, well, mainly taxation. I might put other stuff in. Who knows.
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3 Responses to Tax avoidance and bit of ethical inconsistency?

  1. Richard has let the comment through and replied:

    “Your use of Kant is to highlight the weaknesses in what he said and which many have sought to overcome since

    Morality has to be relative. If it is not it is not morality.”

    Here’s my reply, in case it doesn’t get through:

    So you aren’t really using Kant as an example then, just one aspect of his philosophy? Seems odd to cite him generally then.

    Far from being a weakness, Kant draws strength from his deontological approach because it necessarily applies to all individuals. It allows him to talk about morality whereas with relativism people might not even be able to create the language to talk about morality as it is purely a personal concept.

    If you are indeed embracing moral relativism it rather undermines your argument on morality in taxation. Your opinion is no more valid than any other’s. If all that matters is weight of numbers, there are significant problems where a majority can “morally” do what they will to a minority. I’m sure we can all think of examples of persecution.

    And we all know opinion is partially determined by self-interest. How do we know that somebody is not citing morality for purely selfish purposes?

    So, if morality is relative, how can you judge what another person regards as moral? If I decide that my moral duty to shareholders is more important than my moral duty as a taxpayers, how can you criticise without a full knowledge of my moral values and judgments? The problem of other minds and the lack of existence of a perfect observer are two problems that spring to mind.

    On the basis of your own moral theory, it seems rather immoral to criticise anybody for immoral behaviour. Which you won’t be able to get upset about because my moral judgement is as valid as yours.

  2. The Thought Gang says:

    I think this post is mean.

    In the face of a coherent challenge, Mr Murphy cannot maintain a consistent and logical position across two paragraphs. To expect him to do so over the months since the AAge debate is entirely unreasonable.

    • I have concluded that Richard Murphy is actually very consistent in his relativism.

      His relativism is so extreme it allows him to completely disassociate himself from his own moral judgements of a few seconds previous.

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