16 Pages Posted: 14 May 2016 Last revised: 14 Jun 2016
Date Written: June 13, 2016
The proposition that "promises ought to be kept" is one of the most important normative ideas or value judgements in our daily lives. But what about immoral or criminal promises? That is to say, what about promises that are inherently wrongful, such as bribes, blackmail, murder, etc.? In short, what moral obligations, if any, do such promises impose? Although few theorists have given the problem of immoral promises any sustained thought (J.E.J. Altham and Margaret Gilbert being two notable exceptions), this problem should be of theoretical interest to moral philosophers and lawyers because such promises may help us delimit the outer boundaries of promissory obligations in the moral realm and contractual obligations in the legal realm. We thus explore the problem of immoral promises in light of existing theories of promissory obligations. We conclude that this problem presents an insoluble "moral paradox."
Keywords: paradox, promises, promissory obligation
JEL Classification: K12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation