The Hybrid Nature of Promissory Obligation

Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (3):203–232 (2007)
How do promissory obligations get created? Some have thought that the answer to this question must make reference to our social practice of promising. Recently, however, T.M. Scanlon has argued (in his book What We Owe to Each Other) for a pure ‘expectation view’ of promising, according to which promissory obligations arise as a result of our producing certain expectations in others. He formulates a principle of fidelity (Principle F) that tells us when one has gained an obligation due to producing expectations in another, and he maintains that breaking one's promise is merely a special instance of violation against Principle F. Though initially compelling, Scanlon’s account is ultimately unsatisfactory because it is subject to a vicious circularity. In order to get out of the circle, we are forced to resort back to elements of a social practice view of promising. Thus we arrive at a hybrid view of promissory obligation, which weds parts of Scanlon’s expectation view with parts of a social practice view. After briefly examining and rejecting Scanlon’s pure expectation view, I consider the hybrid view of Niko Kolodny and R. Jay Wallace. I present a serious objection to the hybrid view as they formulate it and go on to construct a modified hybrid view. Finally, I defend my modified hybrid view from certain pressing objections.
Keywords promising  Scanlon
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DOI 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2007.00108.x
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