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A simple theory of promising

Owens, D. (2006) A simple theory of promising. The Philosophical Review, 115 (1). ISSN 0031-8108


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[FIRST PARAGRAPHS] 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. 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.

I shall argue that promising exists because, at least when it comes to each other’s actions, human beings often have what might be called an authority interest: I often want it to be the case that I, rather than you, have the authority to determine what you do. If you promise me a lift home, this promise gives me the right to require you to drive me home; in that sense, it puts me in authority over you. So much is obvious. What I claim is that human beings often want such authority for its own sake (not just to facilitate prediction or co-ordination). I often have an interest in having the right to determine whether you’ll give me a lift, over and above any interest I have in knowing what you (or we) will actually do. And I claim that promising exists because it serves this authority interest.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: This is an author produced version of a paper published in The Philosophical Review.
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Department of Philosophy (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Repository Officer
Date Deposited: 24 May 2006
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2014 14:04
Status: Published
Publisher: Duke University Press
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1216

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