In Douglas Portmore (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism. pp. 289 - 309 (2020)

Alida Liberman
Southern Methodist University
I explore the debate about whether consequentialist theories can adequately accommodate the moral force of promissory obligation. I outline a straightforward act consequentialist account grounded in the value of satisfying expectations, and raise and assess three objections to this account: that it counterintuitively predicts that certain promises should be broken when commonsense morality insists that they should be kept, that the account is circular, and Michael Cholbi’s argument that this account problematically implies that promise-making is frequently obligatory. I then discuss alternative act consequentialist accounts, including Philip Pettit’s suggestion that promise-keeping is an intrinsic good and Michael Smith’s agent-relative account. I outline Brad Hooker’s rule consequentialist account of promissory obligation and raise a challenge for it. I conclude that appeals to intuitions about cases will not settle the dispute, and that consequentialists and their critics must instead engage in substantive debate about the nature and stringency of promissory obligation.
Keywords promises  utilitarianism  act consequentialism  rule consequentialism  promise-making  promise-keeping  counterexamples to consequentialism  intuitions  promissory obligation  pro tanto obligation
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What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Two Concepts of Rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.
The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1962 - Cambridge University Press.
Shaping the Normative Landscape.David Owens - 2012 - Oxford University Press.

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