The value of a promise

Law and Philosophy 11 (4):385 - 402 (1992)
The question What makes a promise binding? has received much attention both from philosophers and lawyers. One argument is that promises are binding because the act of making a promise creates expectations in the promisee, which expectations it would be morally wrong to disappoint. Another argument is grounded in the effects engendered by the making of a promise, specifically actions taken in reliance upon the promise. These two positions, the so-called expectation and reliance theories, have traditionally been thought to be incommensurable. In a recent article, Promises and Practices, Thomas Scanlon advances a theory of promising developed out of both of these positions. This article argues that Scanlon's argument fails because it cannot avoid the incommensurability of the expectation and reliance principles.
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