Michael Pratt, ‘Some Features of Promises and Their Obligations’

Promises raise two main philosophical problems, one moral and the other conceptual. The moral problem concerns the normative significance of promising: what is the nature and basis of the obligations and rights to which promises typically give rise? The conceptual problem is to say what a promise is: what is involved in making a promise? In this paper I defend three controversial claims about promising. One is about the moral problem of promising, one is about the conceptual problem, and the last one is about the relationship between my conceptual claim and my moral claim. My conceptual claim is that a speaker makes a promise only if he communicates an intention to undertake an obligation to the hearer. (I refer to this as the “Obligation Conception Thesis”.) My moral claim is that the obligations typically attached to promises are such that they can be acquired only by those who communicate an intention to undertake an obligation. (I refer to this as the “Voluntary Obligation Thesis”.) My third claim is that if the Obligation Conception Thesis is true, the Voluntary Obligation Thesis is true.

Pratt, Michael G, Some Features of Promises and Their Obligations (September 3, 2014). (2014) 52(3) Southern Journal of Philosophy.

First posted 2014-09-05 18:04:05

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