Monday 11 April 2016

The Moral Law?

Is it not amazing how many moral experts and authorities we have walking among us? I am referring, of course, to the outcry in response to the news concerning Cameron's offshore tax dealings. The moment it was reported, it was obvious that the vast majority of the country would suddenly become very annoyed, accuse Cameron of acting, at the very least, immorally and, if you are Jeremy Corbyn, somehow botch up the opportunity to go on the attack. As Labour continues to be caught up in accusations of anti-Semitism, with my old university Warwick providing the latest headline, it seems that this is exactly what has happened:

Are people annoyed? Yes.

Do they think Cameron did something illegal? Probably not, we seem to understand the difference between avoidance and evasion.

Do they think, regardless, that what Cameron did was definitely immoral? Yes. Without question.

Because, suddenly, we are all the authority on what is and what is not immoral. Suddenly, what is legal and what is illegal is utterly irrelevant and we should all focus on what is immoral. Suddenly, despite the millennia Philosophers have spent arguing over morality and moral principles, we can all agree that finding legal ways to minimise your tax bill, open to everyone, is absolutely definitely immoral without a shadow of a doubt.

Except our legal system is, at least in part, independent of our morality. Sure, the Law, in many ways, matches up with our culturally accepted moral values. And sure, the Law, in other ways, has developed in response to changes in our culturally accepted moral values. But, ultimately, our legal system is a system of Laws. It is not a system of someone's moral values. Precisely because we cannot agree on moral values. And the public continues to be outraged when our legal system and an individual's moral principles do not match up, conflating legality with morality. We would do well to avoid (but, of course, not evade) such a conflation.

If you want to accuse Cameron of acting immorally, then that is your prerogative. Indeed, having different moral values is encouraged in a democracy. But telling me that somehow your moral values trump legal values, that your moral values are more important than someone else's, well that becomes a tyranny. Indeed, it becomes a tyranny arising precisely from the freedoms encouraged by a democracy. The very freedoms Plato warned us about in the Republic. Maybe he was somewhat right after all.