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Richard Healey (LSE)

15 May 2024 @ 12:00 – 13:30
Room 309, hybrid
2910 Edouard-Montpetit

We’re delighted to welcome Richard Healey (LSE) for a lunch talk on immoral promises.

To participate via Zoom, click here.


It is a familiar part of common-sense morality that we are duty bound to keep our promises. However, the creative nature of promissory duties – the fact that the promisor and promisee choose the content of the promises they make – prompts a natural question: Are there substantive constraints on the content of the promises we can make? For instance, can we make binding promises to murder, maim, and steal? Many have the intuition that such promises fail to bind. Taking this intuition as my starting point, this paper develops a novel account of the nature and explanation of the constraints that apply to our power to promise. Most existing views attempt to explain these constraints by appeal to independent duties to which the promisor or promisee are subject. Yet while initially appealing, these views struggle to achieve extensional adequacy, and lack a clear rationale. On the account that I develop, we should instead appeal to the values that underpin the power to promise itself. I argue that a promise creates a form of special relationship between promisor and promisee, and the constraints that apply to that power track the value of this promissory relationship.