Promises, promises (part 3 of 4)

Note: this is the third post in a four-part series.

In our previous blog posts, we saw how Donald Trump’s remaining Republican rivals (Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich) have all pledged to support the eventual nominee of their party, even if the dreaded Trump were to win the nomination. We also focused on Rubio’s pragmatic rationale for making his promise–e.g. Trump is better than his most likely rival Hillary Clinton–and we offered two criticisms of Rubio’s reasoning. Today, let’s focus on Senator Cruz’s rationale for promising to support his party’s eventual nominee.

To begin with, here is the exact question Fox News reporter Brett Baier posed to Ted Cruz: “Senator Cruz, yes or no, will you support Donald Trump if he’s the nomimee?,” and here is Cruz’s concise and eloquent response: “Yes, because I gave my word that I would, and what I have endeavored to do every day in the Senate is do what I said I would do.”

Unlike Senator Rubio’s pragmatic reasoning, Senator Cruz’s competing reason for keeping his promises is grounded in the natural law or “virtue ethics” tradition. According to this traditional theory, when we voluntarily make a promise, we are duty-bound to keep our word. This “voluntary duty argument” makes intuitive sense, but there is a logical weakness with this argument when we examine it closely. In a word, the problem with the duty argument is that it is circular. That is, Cruz is essentially saying that he will keep his promise to Trump because he (Cruz) promised to do so!

Furthermore, in the words of one philosopher (Allen Habib), “The idea that we simply manufacture promissory obligations by speaking them, like an incantation, is decidedly mysterious.” In fact, this critique goes back to our favorite philosopher and intellectual hero David Hume, who wrote (emphasis in original):

“… since every new promise imposes a new obligation of morality on the person who promises, and since this new obligation arises from [the promissor’s] will, it is one of the most mysterious and incomprehensible operations that can possibly be imagined, and may even be compared to transubstantiation of holy orders, where a certain form of words, along with a certain intention, changes entirely the nature of an external object, and even of a human creature.”

In our view, no one has provided a persuasive reply to Hume’s devastating critique of the traditional natural law theory of promises, except maybe the great Immanuel Kant, so in our next post, we will conclude this series with John Kasich’s Kantian reasoning in support of keeping his promise …

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2 Responses to Promises, promises (part 3 of 4)

  1. Pingback: Promises, promises (part 4 of 4) | prior probability

  2. Pingback: Promises, promises (Epilogue) | prior probability

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