We maintain that in many contexts promising to try is expressive of responsibility as a promiser. This morally significant application of promising to try speaks in favor of the view that responsible promisers favor evidentialism about promises. Contra Berislav Marušić, we contend that responsible promisers typically withdraw from promising to act and instead promise to try, in circumstances in which they recognize that there is a significant chance that they will not succeed.
Why do human beings make and accept promises? What human interest is served by this procedure? Many hold that promising serves what I shall call an information interest, an interest in information about what will happen. And they hold that human beings ought to keep their promises because breaches of promise threaten this interest. On this view human beings take promises seriously because we want correct information about how other human beings are going to act. Some such view is (...) taken for granted by most philosophical accounts of promissory obligation.1 I agree that human beings do want such information and that they often get it by accepting promises. But I doubt that promising exists because it serves this information interest. (shrink)
In my “Promising and Supererogation” I argue that one cannot fulfill promises to perform supererogatory actions (such as “I hereby promise to perform one supererogatory action every month”). In a response to my paper, David Heyd argues that there is an alternative solution to the problem I raise. While I agree with much that Heyd says about the examples he discusses, his proposed solution involves a crucial alteration of the problem; his proposed solution does not solve the problem I (...) present. (shrink)
Promising ourselves is familiar, yet some find it philosophically troubling. Though most of us take the promises we make ourselves seriously, it can seem mysterious how a promise made only to oneself could genuinely bind. Moreover, the desire to be bound by a promise to oneself may seem to expose an unflattering lack of trust in oneself. In this paper I aim to vindicate self-promising from these broadly skeptical concerns. Borrowing Nietzsche’s idea of a memory of the will, (...) I suggest that self-promising involves an activity of the will, aimed at the preservation and protection of one’s values. I explain how, understood in this way, these promises can indeed bind, and show that the motivation for making them need not involve mistrust or other alienated attitudes. I then turn to interpersonal promising, arguing that this same activity of the will is required for sincerely promising others: in effect, making a sincere promise to another requires making a promise to oneself. Attention to this under-appreciated aspect of interpersonal promising enriches our understanding of all promises, and helps to correct a narrow and distorted picture of what it means to be bound. (shrink)
T. M. Scanlon has alleged that the social practice of promising fails to capture the sense in which when I break my promise I have wronged the promisee in particular. I suggest the practice of promising requires the promisee to have a normatively significant status, a status with interpersonal authority with respect to the promisor, and so be at risk of a particular harm made possible by the social practice of promising. This formulation of the social practice (...) account avoids Scanlon’s concern without collapsing into what Elinor Mason has recently referred to as deflationism about promising. (shrink)
T.M. Scanlon (1998) proposes that promise breaking is wrong because it shows manipulative disregard for the expectations for future behavior created by promising. I argue that this account of promissory obligation is mistaken in it own right, as well as being at odds with Scanlon's contractualism. I begin by placing Scanlon's account of promising within a tradition that treats the creation of expectations in promise recipients as central to promissory obligation. However, a counterexample to Scanlon's account, his case (...) of the "Profligate Pal," will show that this view of promissory obligation, which I call the Expectations View, is incorrect. In its place, I propose an account of promissory obligation I call Promising as Accountability, according to which promising is a way of making oneself accountable to others for a future act. Not only is Promising as Accountability a more defensible approach to promissory obligation, it also better fits with certain general features of Scanlon's contractualism. (shrink)
We maintain that in many contexts promising to try is expressive of responsibility as a promiser. This morally significant application of promising to try speaks in favor of the view that responsible promisers favor evidentialism about promises. Contra Marušić, we contend that responsible promisers typically withdraw from promising to act, and instead promise to try, in circumstances where they recognize that there is a significant chance that they will not succeed.
My paper explores the power that forgiveness and the promise, as potentialities of action, have to counter the two difficulties that follow from the possibility of being able to begin something new or what Arendt calls the ‘frailty of human affairs’: irreversibility and unpredictability. Acts of forgiving and promising are expressions of freedom and natality, as they begin human relations anew: forgiveness creates a fresh beginning after wrong-doing, and the promise initiates new political agreements. Arendt argues that forgiveness and (...) the promise depend on plurality. They also create more favorable conditions for people to live together in the public world. Historically, forgiveness has been important in political thought in the form of pardon. In contrast, promises have been conceptualised in political thought primarily in contract theories. (shrink)
A paradox involving promises to perform supererogatory actions is developed. Several attempts to resolve the problem, focusing in particular on changing our understanding of supererogatory actions, are explored. It is concluded that none of the proposed solutions are viable; the problem lies in promises with certain contents, not in our understanding of supererogation.
T. M. Scanlon suggests that the binding nature of promises itself plays a role in allowing a promisee rationally to expect follow through even while that binding nature itself depends on the promisee’s rational expectation of follow through. Kolodny and Wallace object that this makes the account viciously circular. The chapter defends Scanlon’s theory from this objection. It argues that the basic complaint is a form of wrong kinds of reason objection. The thought is that the promisee’s reason to expect (...) compliance are undermined if the promise is binding only when the promisee forms that very expectation. The chapter suggests that other uncontroversially rational processes of multi-person coordination involve beliefs with the very same feature. Focal point reasoning in the theory of games is one example. In coordination situations it can be rational to believe that another person will do something precisely because that person expects you to believe what one does about what they’ll do. An examination of the reasoning in such cases motivates a group reflection principle that vindicates the reasoning employed in Scanlon’s account. -/- . (shrink)
The power to promise is morally fundamental and does not, at its foundation, derive from moral principles that govern our use of conventions. Of course, many features of promising have conventional components—including which words, gestures, or conditions of silence create commitments. What is really at issue between conventionalists and nonconventionalists is whether the basic moral relation of promissory commitment derives from the moral principles that govern our use of social conventions. Other nonconventionalist accounts make problematic concessions to the conventionalist's (...) core instincts, including embracing: the view that binding promises must involve the promisee's belief that performance will occur; the view that through the promise, the promisee and promisor create a shared end; and the tendency to take promises between strangers, rather than intimates, as the prototypes to which a satisfactory account must answer. I argue against these positions and then pursue an account that finds its motivation in their rejection. My main claim is: the power to make promises, and other related forms of commitment, is an integral part of the ability to engage in special relationships in a morally good way. The argument proceeds by examining what would be missing, morally, from intimate relationships if we lacked this power. (shrink)
There has been some debate as to whether or not it is possible to keep a promise, and thus fulfil a duty, to supererogate. In this paper, I argue, in agreement with Jason Kawall, that such promises cannot be kept. However, I disagree with Kawall’s diagnosis of the problem and provide an alternative account. In the first section, I examine the debate between Kawall and David Heyd, who rejects Kawall’s claim that promises to supererogate cannot be kept. I disagree with (...) Heyd’s argument, as it fails to get to the heart of the problem Kawall articulates. Kawall’s argument however fails to make clear the problem with promising to supererogate because his discussion relies on the plausibility of the following claim: that supererogatory actions cannot also fulfil obligations. I argue that this view is mistaken because there are clear examples of supererogatory actions that also fulfil obligations. In the final section, I give my alternative account of the problem, identifying exactly what is wrong with fulfilling a duty, and thus keeping a promise, to supererogate. My diagnosis emphasises the importance of identifying non-supererogatory actions when it comes to understanding the way in which supererogatory actions go above and beyond the call of duty. (shrink)
Paradoxically, explorers of the territory of consciousness seem to be studying consciousness out of existence, from inside the field of "consciousness studies". How? Through their love of the phenomenon/process, they have developed powerful single models or lenses through which to understand consciousness. But in doing so, they also seek to destroy the other /equally useful/ lenses. Our opportunity lies in halting the vendettas and cross-speakings/cross-fire. The imploration is to stop the dichotomous thinking and pernicious reification of single models, and instead (...) search for divisions of labor, complementarities, and legitimate redescriptions among the various extant models. In other words, what would happen if we reimagined the conceptual classifications of the various models of consciousness, classifications based on general philosophical dichotomies (e.g., representational/non-representational and individualist/non-individualist), as a variety of compatible and even complementary perspectives on the same complex phenomenon and process? What would happen if rather than dig in our heels vis-à-vis our favorite theory of consciousness, at the exclusion of all the others, we saw our perceived enemy as an actual, indeed necessary, friend-in-waiting? What would it take to see a battlefield as a collaborative opportunity, to see a promising pluralism rather than an endless state space of conflict? (shrink)
Why do promises give rise to reasons? I consider a quadruple of possibilities which I think will not work, then sketch the explanation of the normativity of promising I find more plausible—that it is constitutive of the practice of promising that promise-breaking implies liability for blame and that we take liability for blame to be a bad thing. This effects a reduction of the normativity of promising to conventionalism about liability together with instrumental normativity and desire-based reasons. (...) This is important for a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that this style of account can be extended to account for nearly all normativity—one notable exception being instrumental normativity itself. Success in the case of promises suggests a general reduction of normativity to conventions and instrumental normativity. But success in the cases of promises is already quite interesting and does not depend essentially the general claim about normativity. (shrink)
Douglas Portmore has recently argued in this journal for a "promising result" – that combining teleological ethics with "evaluator relativism" about the good allows an ethical theory to account for deontological intuitions while "accommodat[ing] the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs." I show that this result is false. It follows from the indexical semantics of evaluator relativism that Portmore's compelling idea is false. I also try to explain what might (...) have led to this misunderstanding. (shrink)
Consequentialism is an agent-neutral teleological theory, and deontology is an agent-relative non-teleological theory. I argue that a certain hybrid of the two—namely, non-egoistic agent-relative teleological ethics (NATE)—is quite promising. This hybrid takes what is best from both consequentialism and deontology while leaving behind the problems associated with each. Like consequentialism and unlike deontology, NATE can accommodate the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs. Yet unlike consequentialism and like deontology, NATE (...) accords well with our commonsense moral intuitions. (shrink)
Issues of responsibility in the world of nanotechnology are becoming explicit with the emergence of a discourse on ‘responsible development’ of nanoscience and nanotechnologies. Much of this discourse centres on the ambivalences of nanotechnology and of promising technology in general. Actors must find means of dealing with these ambivalences. Actors’ actions and responses to ambivalence are shaped by their position and context, along with strategic games they are involved in, together with other actors. A number of interviews were conducted (...) with industrial actors with the aim of uncovering their ethical stances towards responsible development of nanotechnology. The data shows that standard repertoires of justification of nanotechnological development were used. Thus, the industrial actors fell back on their position and associated responsibilities. Such responses reinforce a division of moral labour in which industrial actors and scientists can focus on the progress of science and technology, while other actors, such as NGOs, are expected to take care of broader considerations, such as ethical and social issues. (shrink)
There is often something wrong with merely promising to try to φ. In this article I explain what is wrong with such promises. I argue that a promise to try to φ, when it is entirely up to us to φ, is always wrong because it hides a possible choice under the veil of our susceptibility to circumstances beyond our control. I furthermore argue that this is often also the case when matters are not entirely up to us. Finally, (...) I contend that sometimes the promise to try places undue burdens on the promisee. (shrink)
This paper begins with the idea that we can learn a good deal about promising by examining the conditions and norms that govern promise- breaking. Sometimes promises are broken as a deliberate plan, other times they are broken because they are simply incompatible with other, more signifi cant moral norms, or because it becomes clear that they are impossible to keep. There are cases where people make promises that are actually incompatible with each other. Politicians, for example, often give (...) such incompatible promises, either intentionally, or by making too many commitments, some of which turn out to be incompatible. In making such promises, agents guarantee that at least one promise be broken. Is the agent who makes incompatible promises under any obli- gation? If ‘ought’ implies ‘can,’ and promises entail obligations, then it seems that one cannot, in fact, make promises one cannot keep. This paper explores the problem by drawing analogies between incompatible promises and other promises that cannot be kept. It suggests that we can deny ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ strictly speaking, but recognize that there is a practical limit on what the agent can be called on to do. On this view, even promises to do the impossible commit the agent. Similarly, politi- cians who promise too much are still obligated to do as promised. (shrink)
In normative ethics there has been a long-standing debate between consequentialists and deontologists. To settle this dispute moral theorists have often used a selective approach. They have focused on particular aspects of our moral practice and have teased out what consequentialists and deontologists have to say about it. One of the focal points of this debate has been the morality of promising. In this paper I review arguments on both sides and examine whether consequentialists or deontologists offer us a (...) more plausible account of promissory obligation. My conclusion is negative. Given the arguments on the table, I argue, we should conclude that the debate is in a stalemate. It is, therefore, hard to see how the issue of promissory obligation could help us choose between consequentialism and deontology. (shrink)
Why have philosophers since Hume regarded promising as problematic? I distinguish two problems raised by Hume. The problem of the bare wrong is the problem of how it can make sense to avoid a wrong when the wrong does not affect any intelligible human interest. The problem of normative power is the problem of how something can be a wrong simply because it has been declared to be a wrong. I argue that the problem of the bare wrong is (...) more basic. I then examine the attempts of practice theorists like Hume and Rawls to overcome the problem of the bare wrong by arguing that whenever breach of promise seems like a bare wrong, in fact human interests are adversely affected because a socially valuable practice is damaged. I argue that their various explanations cannot cover all the cases. I then formulate an assumption which is shared by all practice theorists (and others) namely the assumption that we take promises seriously because they serve our interest in social co-ordination. I argue that if this assumption were true, there need be no practice of promise-keeping for promises to bind. Furthermore, were this assumption true, promising would be a social tool that we could largely do without. And so long as promising intelligibility is in doubt (because of the problem of the bare wrong) an adherent of the social co-ordination hypothesis should assume that we largely do do without it. So anyone who gives promising a key role in human social life must reject the social co-ordination hypothesis. (shrink)
William Vitek enlarges our understanding by treating the act of promising as a social practice and complex human experience. Citing engaging examples of promises made in everyday life, in extraordinary circumstances, and in literary works, Vitek grapples with the central paradox of promising: that human beings can intend a future to which they are largely blind. _Promising_ evaluates contemporary approaches to the topic by such philosophers as John Rawls, John Searle, Henry Sidgwick, P.S. Atiyah, and Michael Robbins but (...) transcend their more limited focus on promissory obligation. Vitek's innovative approach moves beyond theories of language, ethics, and law to unveil a complex human activity subject to shifting interpretations and changes in nature. (shrink)
The explanation of promising is fraught with problems. In particular the problem that promises can be valid even when nothing good comes of keeping the promise , and the bootstrapping problem with explaining how the mere intention to put oneself under an obligation can create such an obligation have been recognized since Hume’s famous discussion of the topic. There are two influential accounts of promising, and promissory obligation, which attempt to solve the problems: The expectation account and the (...) practice account. While those accounts solve both the bootstrapping problem and the problem of bare wrongings, it turns out that they encounter numerous problems of their own. (shrink)
Does one have an obligation to keep one’s promises? I answer this question by distinguishing between two broad conceptions of promising. On the normativized conception of promising, a promise is made when an agent validly offers to undertake an obligation to the promisee to perform some act (i.e., give up a liberty-right in relation to her) and the promisee validly accepts the offer. Keeping such promises is morally obligatory by definition. On the non- normativized conception, the nature of (...)promising does not conceptually entail any connection with the obligation to keep promises. A promise might be understood, for example, as an assertion that one will do something along with special assurance that one will do so and an invitation to rely on that assurance. A particularly attractive and relevant non-normativized account of promising takes promising simply to be giving one’s word concerning one’s future conduct. So understood, it is plausible—as a substantive matter—that one has an obligation to (1) alert the promisee, if one realizes that he will not perform the promised action, (2) apologize and compensate the promisee, if one does not perform the action, but one has no obligation to perform the promised action. (shrink)
The explanation of promising is fraught with problems. In particular the problem that promises can be valid even when nothing good comes of keeping the promise , and the bootstrapping problem with explaining how the mere intention to put oneself under an obligation can create such an obligation have been recognized since Hume’s famous discussion of the topic. In part 1, I showed that two main views of promising which attempt to solve these problems fall short of explaining (...) the promissory obligation nonetheless. In this second part, I will explain what it takes to show that there is such an obligation to keep one’s promises, and discuss a further account of promissory obligation – the normative powers account – which perhaps stands a chance to solve both the bootstrapping and the bare wrongings problem , and to successfully explain promissory obligation. It comes in at least two different forms: one which regards the normative power to promise as based on our ability to form special relationships, and another which regards the promisee’s ‘authority interest’ as the basis. (shrink)
Left libertarianism is a theory of justice that is committed to full self-ownership and to an egalitarian sharing of the value of natural resources. It is, I shall suggest, a promising way of capturing the liberal egalitarian values of liberty, security, equality, and prosperity.
The explanation of promising is fraught with problems. In particular the problem that promises can be valid even when nothing good comes of keeping the promise, and the bootstrapping problem with explaining how the mere intention to put oneself under an obligation can create such an obligation have been recognized since Hume’s famous discussion of the topic. There are two influential accounts of promising, and promissory obligation, which attempt to solve the problems: The expectation account and the practice (...) account. While those accounts solve both the bootstrapping problem and the problem of bare wrongings, it turns out that they encounter numerous problems of their own. (shrink)
The explanation of promising is fraught with problems. In particular the problem that promises can be valid even when nothing good comes of keeping the promise, and the bootstrapping problem with explaining how the mere intention to put oneself under an obligation can create such an obligation have been recognized since Hume’s famous discussion of the topic. In part 1, I showed that two main views of promising which attempt to solve these problems fall short of explaining the (...) promissory obligation nonetheless. In this second part, I will explain what it takes to show that there is such an obligation to keep one’s promises, and discuss a further account of promissory obligation – the normative powers account – which perhaps stands a chance to solve both the bootstrapping and the bare wrongings problem, and to successfully explain promissory obligation. It comes in at least two different forms: one which regards the normative power to promise as based on our ability to form special relationships, and another which regards the promisee’s ‘authority interest’ as the basis. (shrink)
John Searle attempts to show through a consideration of promising that at least some ‘ought’ statements can be derived from ‘is’ statements. He thinks that you can determine on purely factual grounds that a person has made a promise, and that it follows logically from the statement that a person has made a promise that he has at least a prima facie obligation to do the thing he promised to do. I agree with but not with.
This study on the Speech Act of Promising builds on an article by Egner which claims that in many African Societies a promise is most often made not to be committed to its content but to be polite and save one's own or the addressee's face. While Egner opts for a Speech Act Theory approach to explain the phenomenon and comes to the conclusion that the speech act of promising may occur minus commitment, thus refuting the standard SAT (...) claim, I have opted to treat the issue within Relevance Theory and claim that a true speech act of promising cannot be without commitment since it is a performative and institutional speech act which has to be committed by its very nature. I have rather explained that the concept PROMISE can be used as an ad hoc concept PROMISE* which conveys a speech act of "saying that" and which is a broadened version of the encoded concept to make commitment optional and include issues of politeness and face saving. While Egner claims that a committed speech act can be determined by linguistic indication most of the time I claim that the intended interpretation falls out naturally from the relevance theoretic comprehension procedure which is: "Follow the path of least effort in determining cognitive effects and stop when your expectation of relevance is fulfilled". Unlike Egner I claim that at the root of using non-committed promises as a face saving device are shame oriented cultures that need these kinds of mechanisms for politeness more than guilt oriented cultures. (shrink)
A scholarly confusion of tongues, or, is promising an illocutionary act? Technical terms, I argued elsewhere, should not be re-defined without a profound reason; for such a re-definition furthers misunderstanding and is therefore undesirable. If my argument is on the right track, then we have reason to acknowledge the original definition of ‘illocutionary acts’ established by John L. Austin; any subsequent re-definition, unless it is specially justified somehow, must count as a terminological mistake. I use this argument, in order (...) to proceed against what appears to me a highly problematic terminological situation, namely, the present existence of a double-digit number of different definitions of the term "illocutionary act." Against my argument, I met the objection that the co-existence of several different intensional definitions of ‘illocutionary acts’ eventually is not very problematic, given the alleged fact that the extension of the term is indisputable. In this paper, I argue that the objection fails, because its central premise is false: William P. Alston, Bach & Harnish and John R. Searle have very different opinions as to whether, for instance, promising is an illocutionary act, even though promises are commonly supposed to be extremely obvious cases. Additionally, I consider the objection that the term "illocutionary act" is indispensable as a means of referring to those various things it is used for; I discard this objection by demonstrating that, and how, at least the accounts under consideration in this paper could easily do without the term. (shrink)
The integration of economics and psychology has created a vibrant and fruitful emerging field of study. The essays in Economics and Psychology take a broad view of the interface between these two disciplines, going beyond the usual focus on "behavioral economics." As documented in this volume, the influence of psychology on economics has been responsible for a view of human behavior that calls into question the assumption of complete rationality, the acceptance of experiments as a valid method of economic research, (...) and the idea that utility or well-being can be measured.The contributors, all leading researchers in the field, offer state-of-the-art discussions of such topics as pro-social behavior and the role of conditional cooperation and trust, happiness research as an empirical tool, the potential of neuroeconomics as a way to deepen understanding of individual decision making, and procedural utility as a concept that captures the well-being people derive directly from the processes and conditions leading to outcomes. Taken together, the essays in Economics and Psychology offer an assessment of where this new interdisciplinary field stands and what directions are most promising for future research, providing a useful guide for economists, psychologists, and social scientists. (shrink)
This book examines Latina/o college student leadership and leadership development in higher education. Lozano analyzes emerging frameworks, empirical research, leadership models, essays, and promising practices to provide insight into how Latina/o students experience and promote leadership in higher education.
Considering that getting along in civil society is based on the expectation that people will do what they say they will do, i.e., essentially live up to their explicit or implicit promises, it is amazing that so little scientific attention has been given to the act of promising. A great deal of research has been done on the moral development of children, for example, but not on the child’s ability to make and keep a promise, one of the highest (...) moral achievements. What makes it possible developmentally, cognitively, and emotionally to make a promise in the first place? And on the other hand, what compels one to keep a promise when there seems to be no personal advantage in doing so, and even when harm can be predicted? How do we know when a promise is offered seriously to be taken at face value, and how do we understand that another is only a polite gesture, not to be taken seriously? In _Promises, Oaths, and Vows: On the Psychology of Promising_, Herbert Schlesinger addresses these questions, drawing on the literature of moral development in children; the psychotherapy of a patient who regularly broke promises that were unnecessary in the first place; those who were regarded as "promising youngsters" who did not fulfill their "promise"; and those who feared making a promise, a commitment, or a threat out of fear that, once made, the utterance would take on a life of its own and could never be taken back. Furthermore, he illustrates his conclusions by examining the widespread use of promising in classical literature, such as Greek drama and the plays of Shakespeare, as well as the motivating and reifying power of the promise in Western religious traditions. With a style honed over the penning of two previous books, Schlesinger once again produces a work grounded in a firm analytic sensibility, but which also retains the wit and candor of the seasoned analyst. His seminal investigation of this all but neglected topic in the clinical literature is as timely as it is scholarly, and – with the title firmly in mind – _Promises, Oaths, and Vows_ is assured to be a worthy addition to any clinician’s library and a provoking investigation into Nietzsche’s notion of man as "the animal who makes promises.". (shrink)
It is widely held that one who sincerely promises to do something must at least intend to do that thing: a promise communicates the intention to perform. In this paper, I argue that a promise need only communicate the intention to undertake an obligation to perform. I consider examples of sincere promisors who have no intention of performing. I argue that this fits well with what we want to say about other performatives - giving, commanding etc. Furthermore, it supports a (...) theory of promissory obligation which I have advocated elsewhere - the authority interest theory - against the orthodox information interest theory. (shrink)
In a recent Philosophy of Science article Gerhard Schurz proposes meta-inductivistic prediction strategies as a new approach to Hume's. This comment examines the limitations of Schurz's approach. It can be proven that the meta-inductivist approach does not work any more if the meta-inductivists have to face an infinite number of alternative predictors. With his limitation it remains doubtful whether the meta-inductivist can provide a full solution to the problem of induction.