Promises and rule-consequentialism

The duty to keep promises has many aspects associated with deontological moral theories. The duty to keep promises is non-welfarist, in that the obligation to keep a promise need not be conditional on there being a net benefit from keeping the promise—indeed need not be conditional on there being at least someone who would benefit from its being kept. The duty to keep promises is more closely connected to autonomy than directly to welfare: agents have moral powers to give themselves certain obligations to others. And these moral powers, which enable promisors to create agent- relative obligations to promisees, correlate with rights the promisees acquire in the process, such as rights to waive the duty or insist on its performance. As a result of promises, promisees acquire (not only rights but also) a special status: the promisees are the ones wronged when promises to them that they have not waived are not kept. One more aspect of the duty to keep promises that is associated with deontological moral theories is that what actions the duty requires is at least partly backward-looking: what actions the duty requires depends on facts about the past, namely facts about what promises were made and then waived or not. This paper surveys these aspects of the duty to keep promises and then explores whether rule-consequentialism can be reconciled with them.
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