The Value of Making and Keeping Promises

Michael Smith

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Consequentialists hold, quite in general, that what we are obliged to do are those things, among the alternatives available to us, that uniquely maximize value and minimize disvalue. But surely this cannot be right, some people say, because we may have an obligation to (say) keep a promise we made to someone whether or not doing so happens to maximize value and minimize disvalue. Fully understanding how we are able to put ourselves under an obligation to another person by making him a promise is, they think, thus the first step in a move away from a consequentialist analysis of obligation in general. But is this right? The issue turns on whether gaining a full understanding of how we are able to put ourselves under an obligation to another person by promising is a matter of coming to appreciate the special values produced by making promises. This chapter argues not just that it is, but that the opponents of this view are themselves committed to it by their own lights.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPromises and Agreements
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophical Essays
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
ISBN (Electronic)9780199893836
ISBN (Print)9780195377958
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Consequentialism
  • Maximization
  • Neutral value
  • Obligation
  • Promise
  • Relative value
  • Scanlon
  • Sidgwick

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