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On Making and Keeping Promises

RICHARD M. FOX and JOSEPH P. DeMARCO
Journal of Applied Philosophy
Vol. 13, No. 2 (1996), pp. 199-208
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24354303
Page Count: 10
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On Making and Keeping Promises
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Abstract

Do the conditions under which promises are made determine whether they ought to be kept? Philosophers have placed a number of conditions on promising which, they hold, must be met in order to make promise-keeping obligatory. In so doing, they have distinguished valid promises from invalid promises and justified promises from promises that are not justified. Considering such conditions, one by one, we argue that they are mistaken. In the first place, the conditions they lay down are not necessary for either valid or justified promise-making. In the second place, promises need not meet such conditions in order to create moral obligations. In general, such analyses of promising fail because they suffer from a confusion between promise-making and promise-keeping. Philosophers have wrongly supposed that obligations to keep promises are dependent upon, or derivable from, the quality of the promises themselves, at the time they are made, instead of focusing on conditions that must be satisfied at the time when promises are supposed to be kept. It is not the quality of a promise that determines an obligation to keep it but the rightness or wrongness of performing the promised act.

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