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.