Breaking Bad Promises
Book Chapter in Better Call Saul and Philosophy, Joshua Heter & Brett Coppenger, editors (forthcoming)
13 Pages Posted: 14 May 2016 Last revised: 2 Nov 2021
Date Written: November 1, 2021
The proposition that “promises ought to be kept” is quite possibly one of the most important normative ideals or value judgements in daily life, but what about illegal or immoral promises, i.e. promises that are wrongful or “bad” in some legal or moral sense? Philosophically speaking, what moral obligations, if any, do illicit promises generate? May we break our “bad” promises, or must we keep them? As it happens, these philosophical questions are posed time-and-time again in the hit TV show "Better Call Saul." Accordingly, this chapter highlights a wide variety of “bad” promises and illicit agreements in the series "Better Call Saul", beginning with the staged traffic accident in the series premiere and continuing with several criminal conspiracies from the first four seasons of the series: the Kettlemans’s illegal bribe in season 1 (“The Kettleman Conspiracy”), Nacho and Mike’s hitman contract in season 2 (“The Tuco Salamanca Conspiracy”), the formation of Gus and Mike’s illicit alliance in season 3 (“The Pollos Hermanos Conspiracy”), and Jimmy and Ira’s felonious caper in season 4 (“The Hummel Heist”). In brief, illicit promises should be of particular interest to scholars because such promises pose a special kind of moral paradox: when may we break a “bad” promise? On the one hand, we have a moral duty to keep our promises, but on the other hand, we also have a moral obligation to avoid harming third parties. As a result, there are two competing moral principles in direct conflict with each other whenever someone makes an illegal or immoral promise. The philosophical question is: how should we resolve this moral contradiction?
Keywords: Better Call Saul, illicit agreements, paradox, promises
JEL Classification: K12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation