Of the Obligation of Promises

Jonathan Harrison

in Hume's Theory of Justice

Published in print January 1980 | ISBN: 9780198246190
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191680946 | DOI:
Of the Obligation of Promises

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This chapter discusses the following: (1) Sense in which promising can, and sense in which it cannot, alter our obligations. (2) Though Hume is right in regarding promising as being dependent on conventions, he is wrong in thinking that it is necessary to feign the act of willing oneself under an obligation. Alleged inconsistencies in promising. Obligation to keep our promise not man-made. (3) The ‘act of the mind’ attending the words ‘I promise’. Why there must be such an act, if promising is a natural virtue. Why there can be no such act in fact. The view that this act is simply the saying of the words ‘I promise’ must be rejected. Why promising is obligatory. (4) Perhaps Hume thought that saying ‘I promise’ was making a statement that reported the occurrence of an act of mind, which act is the promise. (5) The impossibility of willing oneself under an obligation. Promising does not in fact entail our altering our obligations ‘immediately’. (6) Promising something and expressing a resolution to do something. (7) Promising and transference. Promising without saying ‘I promise’. Promising puts us under a prima-facie obligation rather than under an obligation. The view that to promise is to say something about the words one is saying when one says ‘I promise’. (8) Though promising is a conventional activity, it is not a convention that promises ought to be kept.

Keywords: promise; promising; obligations; transference; virtue

Chapter.  12186 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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