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Social Contract and Beyond: Sociability, Reciprocity and Tax Ethics

  • Hans GribnauEmail author
  • Carl Dijkstra
Chapter

Abstract

Paying taxes, as determined by the legislature, is a moral obligation owed by members of a community to their community. Question is whether paying taxes has become an exclusively legal affair: a legal obligation towards the state, replacing a moral obligation towards society. This chapter tries to find an answer to that question by analysing social contract theorists and their critics. Social contract theorists and their critics searched for principles underlying a viable civil polity. Hobbes, Spinoza and Hume focused on political and legal authority and obedience; grounding their theories on various ideas regarding human motivations and human sociability. These different starting points resulted in diverging conceptions of the reciprocal relationships between ruler and subjects and between subjects and fellow subjects. We will show the consequences thereof for the relationship between tax law and morality. Different conceptions of the reciprocal relationships involved may invite behaviour varying from minimalist compliance to a more liberal compliance with tax law. Taxpayers facing absolute sovereignty may adopt a legalistic attitude relying on the letter of the law or exploiting loopholes rather than stay within the spirit of applicable tax legislation.

Keywords

Social contract theory Contractualism Hobbes Spinoza Hume Tax compliance Letter of the law Spirit of the law Legalism Formalism Reciprocity 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Leiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Netherlands Tax and Customs AdministrationUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Radboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands

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