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Honor, History, and RelationshipEssays in Second-Personal Ethics II$
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Stephen Darwall

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199662609

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199662609.001.0001

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Demystifying Promises

Demystifying Promises

(p.131) 7 Demystifying Promises
Honor, History, and Relationship

Stephen Darwall

Oxford University Press

This chapter is concerned with philosophical puzzles about promising. The traditional problem has been to explain how it is possible to place oneself under obligation simply by expressing one's will to do so. However, there is a second problem that is less discussed: How is it possible to become obligated to another person by so expressing one's will to that person. The major attempts to explain promissory obligations — consequentialist, Rawls', and Scanlon's — fail to account for this ‘directed’ or ‘bipolar’ obligation, whether or not they can explain promissory obligations period. By appreciating bipolar obligations' second-personal character and promising as a second-personal phenomenon, however, it is possible to account for promising as a species of a genus, transactions, in which parties acquire new obligations to and rights against one another through interactions that presupposes their mutual accountability and their sharing a common basic second-personal authority.

Keywords:   promise, consent, obligation, Rawls, Scanlon, second-person, bipolar

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