Politicians and Promises

120px-Jurvetson_-_Barack_Obama_on_the_Primary_(by)During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama made a promise to not raise taxes (of any kind) on families making less than $250,000 per year. On this past Sunday, however, President Obama’s top two economic advisers, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, went on multiple nationally televised talk shows and implied that the President would be willing to break his campaign promise if it were necessary to reign in the national deficit. Not surprisingly, political opponents and the White House Press Corps were quick to pounce on the apparent flip-flop. In response to growing questions and criticism, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued the following statement: “The president made a commitment in the campaign. He’s clear about that commitment, and he’s going to keep it.”

What is a responsible citizen to make of this situation? Putting aside questions of political sport, it seems that she should ask a variety of moral and philosophical questions inspired by the situation. For instance, what kind of a commitment is a promise? Is it categorical as Immanuel Kant would have it? Or are there circumstances in which it is permissible (if not required by duty) to break one’s promises? More to the point, are there circumstances in which duties associated with political offices — such as President — outweigh or trump promises made in the heat of a campaign? And if so, does it ever make sense for politicians to make categorical promises of the sort that the Obama Administration now finds itself renewing?

See here for a New York Times article with more details on the above situation.

See also the following related articles in Philosophy Compass.

Preempting Principles: Recent Debates in Moral Particularism
By Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge, Davidson College University of Edinburgh
(Vol. 3, November 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Kantian Virtue
By Anne Margaret Baxley , Washington University in St. Louis
(Vol. 2, April 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Consequentializing
By Douglas W. Portmore , Arizona State University
(Vol. 4, February 2009)
Philosophy Compass

Golf, Happiness, and Morality

Stuart Cink golf_2won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry last Sunday, his first major championship. However, the new highpoint in the 36 year-old Cink’s professional golf career came at the expense of Tom Watson’s happiness and the happiness of (nearly all) golf fans world-wide who desperately wanted to see Watson do the impossible: win golf’s most storied major at the not-so-tender age of 59, eleven years older than any previous major winner. Continue reading “Golf, Happiness, and Morality”

Peter Singer in NYT on rationing health care

PeterSinger(cropped)Check it out here.  Will Wilkinson excerpts this part:

If the Department of Transportation [followed the principle that it was impossible to put a dollar value on human life] it would exhaust its entire budget on road safety. Fortunately the department sets a limit on how much it is willing to pay to save one human life. Continue reading “Peter Singer in NYT on rationing health care”

A “torture” debate

Gitmo_AerialAs a matter of editorial policy, several major media outlets, including The New York Times and NPR, do not use the word “torture” to describe treatment of prisoners in US custody.  This policy has drawn criticism from opponents of US interrogation methods. Continue reading “A “torture” debate”

FREE Syllabus: Moral Realism and Moral Nonnaturalism

FREE PDFTeaching & Learning Guide for: Moral Realism and Moral Nonnaturalism
By Stephen Finlay and Terence Cuneo, University of Southern California Calvin College (April 2008)

Keywords:

Sections: Ethics
Subjects:
Theoretical Ethics, Philosophy, Ethics
Period:
2000 – present
Key Topics: normativity, naturalism, pragmatism, good, value, morality

(See all Philosophy Compass Teaching & Learning Guides‘)

FREE Syllabus: Moral Rationalism Vs. Moral Sentimentalism

FREE PDFTeaching & Learning Guide for: Moral Rationalism Vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?
By Michael B. Gill, University of Arizona (January 2008)

Keywords:

Section: History of Philosophy
Subjects:
Philosophy, History of Philosophy
People: Hobbes, Thomas , Hume, David
Key Topics: normativity, rationalism, relativism, value, morality

(See all  Teaching & Learning Guides‘)