Promises, promises (Epilogue)

We wrote up a four-part series on the problem of promises (specifically, why is it morally wrong to break a promise?), using a recent episode from the world of politics to explore the moral foundations of promises. In particular, we saw how Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich offered radically different reasons–ranging from Rubio’s consequentialism (“we must defeat Hillary Clinton“) to Cruz’s virtue ethics (“I gave my word“) to Kasich’s Kantian reciprocity (“you want to respect the people that you’re in the arena with“)–explaining their individual pledges to support the eventual nominee of their party, even if the nominee were Donald Trump. But, so what? What’s the point of exploring the moral foundations of promises? To answer this question, we’ve decided to write this epilogue, and we’ve decided to pose a new question: which candidate is least likely to break his pledge to support Trump if he (Trump) were to win the nomination?

Let’s start with Senator Rubio. Since his promise is based on consequential reasoning, there is no guarantee that he won’t simply change his mind down the road about Trump being the “lesser evil” than either Clinton or Sanders. So much for Rubio. What about Senator Cruz, who gave his solemn word to support the eventual nominee? Well, what happens when one minor promise conflicts with another more major promise? After all, Cruz has also given his word to support the true conservative cause, so we could easily see Cruz renouncing his promise to support Trump if that promise conflicts with his previous promise to defend the conservative cause. Now, let’s conclude with Governor Kasich. We may be wrong about this, but in our view, because his promise to support Trump is grounded in Kantian reciprocity and respect, Kasich is the least likely man to break his pledge, for he would not only be harming the promissee or recipient of his promise if he were to go back on his word; he would also be harming himself.

A true Kantian?

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