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date: 04 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

I explore the debate about whether consequentialist theories can adequately accommodate the moral force of promissory obligation. I outline a straightforward act consequentialist account grounded in the value of satisfying expectations, and I raise and assess three objections to this account: that it counterintuitively predicts that certain promises should be broken when common-sense morality insists that they should be kept, that the account is circular, and Michael Cholbi’s argument that this account problematically implies that promise-making is frequently obligatory. I then discuss alternative act consequentialist accounts, including Philip Pettit’s suggestion that promise-keeping is an intrinsic good and Michael Smith’s agent-relative account. I outline Brad Hooker’s rule consequentialist account of promissory obligation and raise a challenge for it. I conclude that appeals to intuitions about cases will not settle the dispute, and that consequentialists and their critics must instead engage in substantive debate about the nature and stringency of promissory obligation.

Keywords: promises, promissory obligation, promise-making, promise-keeping, utilitarianism, counterexamples, intuitions, pro tanto obligations, act consequentialism, rule consequentialism

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