The Normative Force of Promising

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 6:77-101 (2016)
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Why do promises give rise to reasons? I consider a quadruple of possibilities which I think will not work, then sketch the explanation of the normativity of promising I find more plausible—that it is constitutive of the practice of promising that promise-breaking implies liability for blame and that we take liability for blame to be a bad thing. This effects a reduction of the normativity of promising to conventionalism about liability together with instrumental normativity and desire-based reasons. This is important for a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that this style of account can be extended to account for nearly all normativity—one notable exception being instrumental normativity itself. Success in the case of promises suggests a general reduction of normativity to conventions and instrumental normativity. But success in the cases of promises is already quite interesting and does not depend essentially the general claim about normativity.

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Jack Woods
University of Leeds


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