Note: this is the last post of this four-part series.
Our previous posts in this series have explored the moral foundations of promissory obligations. Furthermore, instead of investigating this important philosophical puzzle in the abstract, we have turned our attention to the rough-and-tumble world of politics, since all three of Donald Trump’s remaining Republican rivals (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich) recently reiterated their solemn pledge to support Trump if he (Trump) were to win their party’s nomination. Thus far in this series, we compared and contrasted the competing reasons offered by Senators Marco Rubio (consequentialism) and Ted Cruz (natural law theory) for keeping their promise to Trump. Today, we will focus on Governor John Kasich, who offered this powerful Kantian argument in defense of keeping his pledge:
“And, yeah, look, when you’re in the arena, and we’re in the arena, … we’re traveling, we’re working, we spend time away from our family, when you’re in the arena, you enter a special circle. And you want to respect the people that you’re in the arena with. So if he ends up as the nominee — sometimes, he makes it a little bit hard — but, you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president.”
In other words, Governor Kasich’s promise-keeping rationale is based on Kantian or rational ethics. According to the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant, it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end; people must be treated as ends in themselves. Governor Kasich’s elegant and humorous answer to the Trump question affirms this Kantian sentiment.
But what does it mean to treat people as ends? In brief, Kant argued that moral duties–duties like telling the truth and keeping one’s promises–are based on universal rules or “the categorical imperative.” Specifically, moral duties must at a minimum meet two fundamental conditions: consistency (i.e. the rule must treat like cases alike) and reversibility (one must abide by the same rules one uses to judge the morality of other persons’ conduct).
Both of these fundamental conditions not only apply to the general moral duty of keeping one’s promises; they also appear to apply to the specific political pledge made by the Republican presidential candidates to support their party’s eventual nominee. In short, if Trump’s rivals want Trump to support the eventual nominee, then they too have to be willing to support Trump if he wins the nomination this summer.