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Promises and AgreementsPhilosophical Essays$
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Hanoch Sheinman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195377958

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195377958.001.0001

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The Importance of Self-Promises

The Importance of Self-Promises

(p.124) Chapter 5 The Importance of Self-Promises
Promises and Agreements

Connie S. Rosati

Oxford University Press

Many philosophers have been skeptical about the existence of promises to self, and in fact, self-promises appear to face a dilemma. Critics have argued that promises to self are conceptually impossible. Since the agent is both promisor and promisee, she can release herself from a self-promise at will, and so she was never really bound. Self-promises, in short, cannot be genuine because unlike our promises to others, they cannot create obligations. Even if it could be shown that self-promises are not conceptually impossible, they seem to be of little importance or effect. It seems clear why we would need and want to make promises to others, but why would we ever need or want to make promises to ourselves? This chapter attempts to address this dilemma. The chapter argues that the supposed possibility of “self-release” does not show that promises to self are impossible. Insofar as there is a real difficulty for the possibility of self-promises, it lies in making out a plausible distinction between release from a self-promise and breach of that promise. But this difficulty, The chapter suggests, can be answered. The chapter goes on to offer a preliminary defense of the importance of self-promises, arguing that their importance lies in how they may function to serve our interest in autonomy—in having effective authority over ourselves.

Keywords:   authority, autonomy, control, Darwall, Kant, Owens, promise, release, sanction, self-promise

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