The agreement to keep our agreements: Hume, Prichard, and Searle

Philosophical Papers 23 (2):75-87 (1994)

Jan Narveson
University of Waterloo
Does it make sense, and is it at all plausible, to view the moral obligation to keep particular promises and do what is called for by particular agreements such as contracts as being founded on a general "Social Contract" -- i.e., to give a contractarian account of promise-keeping? This paper argues that it does. Borrowing from Hume, David Lewis, Gilbert Harman, and David Gauthier, I provide a sketch of what the "social contract" is (not, e.g., either a real or a hypothetical meeting of all with all) -- namely, a form of commitment, makable by any individual, but with commitment likewise to social reinforcement. Then it is argued that Searle's familiar thesis is in error in that it leaves out the latter factor as well as implicitly calling for a version of the former. Then it is argued that this general understanding of morality can reasonably issue in a specific rule about agreements that would be one among others in a contractarian moral platform
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DOI 10.1080/05568649409506414
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