Chapter

The Promissory Interest

David Owens

in Shaping the Normative Landscape

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199691500
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744938 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691500.003.0007
The Promissory Interest

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Various theories of promising are best understood as attempts to explain the distinctive features of the promissory bond in terms of the human interest served by promising. The function of a promise is not to serve our interest in social co-ordination but rather to serve our authority interest, our interest in controlling what others are obliged to do. A promise can serve this interest only when there is a social practice of taking promises seriously. Such a practice is constituted by a shared habit (rather than a collective policy) of recognizing that promises bind. This practice has an intelligible genealogy in that our habits evolve to serve our normative interests. But once such a practice has come into existence, we have the possibility of bare wronging, of people being wronged by breach of promise even though their interests (both normative and non-normative) are unaffected by it.

Keywords: authority interest; function; genealogy; practice; bare wronging; shared habit; collective policy

Chapter.  11869 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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