Immoral Promises

16 Pages Posted: 14 May 2016 Last revised: 14 Jun 2016

See all articles by F. E. Guerra-Pujol

F. E. Guerra-Pujol

University of Central Florida; Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico

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

Guerra-Pujol, F. E., Immoral Promises (June 13, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

F. E. Guerra-Pujol (Contact Author)

University of Central Florida ( email )

Orlando, FL 32816
United States


Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico ( email )

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