“Religious Arguments in the Law” or “Reasoning in God’s Presence”

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3 Responses

  1. Will Baude says:

    Great post, Nate. One thing. You write: “It is also a claim about the nature of moral reality, and as such it has a truth value independent of whether or not any particular person prefers it or not.”

    You agree, I hope, that this too is a claim about the nature of moral reality– and as such, whether it has an independent truth value at all depends on whose views about the nature of moral reality (the subjectivists, the logical positivists, the Kantians, those of a particular theology, the relativists, etc.) are correct?

  2. Vic Fleischer says:

    Great post, Nate.

    While I have your ear, does LDS have anything unique or interesting to say with respect to the design of tax systems? One student asked about this in the workshop, and we didn’t know.

  3. Nate Oman says:

    Will: I would agree with you to the extent that how we assess the truth of moral theories will depend on the meta-theory that we adopt as to morality. My point, however, is that one cannot assume that distributive justice is a matter of preferences without some substantial moral theory explaining why this is so, and such a meta-theory cannot be explained by as a preference without falling into circularity. At some point normative argument has to be…well…normative.

    Vic: To my knowledge, no LDS writers have tried to cash out the implications of LDS theology for tax law. What you do have among Mormons is tithing, which is the payment of one tenth of one’s “increase” to the Church. There are two potential issues here:

    1. Tithing is not progressive. I suppose that some Mormon or another might make an argument by analogy here to taxes, but I don’t recall seeing. Interestingly, the issue of regressive religious donations shows up in — I believe — the Talmud. The Torah states that everyone made equal donations to the creation of the tabranacle. The sages — being smart guys — picked up on the fact that this was regressive, placing a greater burden on the poor than the rich. They provided an apologia for the rule by arguing that equal donations meant that all of the people had an equal claim to “ownership” of the tabranacle, and therefore the rich couldn’t claim a greater interst in it. This is a sort of inversion of the classic arguments for property qualifications in voting, ie those that pay the most for the government should have the most say in its actions.

    2. The second issue with tithing is that the rule is quite vague and the Church has steadfastly refused to provide any elaboration on it. Hence, there is no official position on whether one should tithe gross or net income, or how it is that income should be realized for tithing purposes. All of these issues are left between the individual and God. The Church conducts “tithing settlements” each year where the leader of a local congregation meets with an individual privately and asks them if they are full tithe payer. The individual says yes or no, but the leader makes no independent inquiry into this statement. In LDS sermons the simplicity of the tithing rule, and its reliance on “the spirit of the law” rather than a set of inticate rules is frequently cited as a virtue, showing the superiority of God’s ways to man’s ways. There might be some deeper point there for tax policy, but I am too ignorant about the subject to figure out what it might be.