Promissory Obligation and its Structure of Justification
Zhang, Erik Yuan
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In my view, the central disagreement in contemporary discussion of promissory obligation stems from two contrasting conceptions of the function of the obligation of promise keeping. Simply put, the disagreement is over whether to view promissory obligation as arising from the need to protect something of value or to view it as arising from the need to make attainable something of value. The main thesis for which I shall argue is that the Attainment View is problematic. To this end, I offer two lines of argument against the view, one negative and one positive. Negatively, I shall show that the perceived advantages of the Attainment View over the Protection View are more apparent than real. Positively, I shall argue that the Attainment View faces an irresolvable dilemma when it comes to a range of pertinent cases, cases that involve promises which are morally impermissible for the promisor to carry out. My thesis is organized as follows. Chapter 2 introduces the Practice View and the Expectation View of promissory obligation, supported respectively by Hume and Rawls on the one hand and Scanlon on the other. The views are unified by their conception of promissory obligation as serving a protection function. In Chapter 3, I discuss three variants of the Normative Power View of promissory obligation, advocated separately by Raz, Shiffrin and Owens. Common to all three is the idea that promissory obligation serves an attainment function. In the fourth and final Chapter, I spell out in more detail the contrast between the Protection View and the Attainment View, and I raise two lines of the argument against the latter position.