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Monday, June 27, 2022

Shaviro, "'Moralist' Versus 'Scientist'"

Via Paul Caron, this paper by Daniel Shaviro: "'Moralist' Versus 'Scientist': Stanley Surrey and the Public Intellectual Practice of Tax Policy." Tax law is well outside my wheelhouse, but the kind of issues the paper discusses are most certainly not foreign to constitutional law. Indeed, they are a guiding dispute and overarching theme for much of modern academic life.

From the paper's introduction:

Tax scholars have long felt the dual call between functioning primarily as “scientists” who seek to advance expert understanding, and/or as “moralists” who seek to improve the world....

To this day, the scientist versus moralist dichotomy continues to be prominent in the field. We all can think of tax scholars whom we view as primarily engaged in either the one enterprise or the other. Moreover, those of us with a foot in each camp are often quite self-aware about the distinction between projects that aim at neutral analysis, and those that engage in deliberate advocacy with the hope of improving the world.

To the scientist, the moralist risks the intellectual sins of over-selling, over-simplifying, and perhaps even improperly tilting the analysis or conclusions for ideological or salesmanship reasons. To the moralist, the scientist risks aesthetic self-indulgence, and perhaps even the self- centered pursuit of academic reputation, at the expense of actually trying to make a positive difference in the world....

Surrey’s memoirs provide a valuable opportunity to interrogate both a prominent instance of the “moralist” approach to legal academic work and the grounds for his main tax policy stances (all of which remain rightly prominent, albeit reasonably contested) – along with the question of made him so sure that he was right. I aim here both to explore his own underlying moral premises, and to assess what his work both gained and lost intellectually by reason of his hewing so strongly to a set of career-long, deeply held beliefs.

All very familiar to all of us, I should think, but there is something tremendously useful and revivifying about seeing the question presented and pursued in a different substantive area, and thus without the deadening familiarity of seeing it argued by the usual suspects in one's own substantive field. I have not read the whole paper yet, but so far it is crisp, eloquent, and interesting. I happily recommend it.   


Posted by Paul Horwitz on June 27, 2022 at 04:12 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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