Social contract and beyond: Sociability, reciprocity and tax ethics

Hans Gribnau, Carl Dijkstra

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientific


Paying taxes is a moral obligation owed by members of a community to their community. This obligation is determined by the legislature. Subsequently the tax authorities collect the amount of taxes citizens are due. Paying taxes might thus seem to become an exclusively legal affair - a legal obligation towards the state replacing a moral obligation towards society. What to think of this?
In this chapter we delve into political and legal theory to find an answer to this question. Social contract theorists and their critics searched principles for a viable civil polity. Hobbes, Spinoza and Hume focused on political and legal authority and obedience grounding their theories in various pictures of human motivations and human sociability. These different starting points resulted in diverging conceptualisations of the relationships between ruler and subjects and between subjects and fellow subjects in terms of reciprocity.
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 thus adopt a legalistic attitude and be willing to exploit the letter of the law or loopholes rather than stay within the spirit of applicable tax legislation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthics and taxation
EditorsRobert van Brederode
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages44
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-15-0089-3
ISBN (Print)978-981-15-0088-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Social contract theory, contractualism, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, tax compliance, letter of the law, spirit of the law, legalism, formalism, reciprocity


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