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Benn, Claire. What is Wrong with Promising to Supererogate
2013, Philosophia 42: 55-61.
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Added by: Carl Fox
Abstract: There has been some debate as to whether or not it is possible to keep a promise, and thus fulfil a duty, to supererogate. In this paper, I argue, in agreement with Jason Kawall, that such promises cannot be kept. However, I disagree with Kawall's diagnosis of the problem and provide an alternative account. In the first section, I examine the debate between Kawall and David Heyd, who rejects Kawall's claim that promises to supererogate cannot be kept. I disagree with Heyd's argument, as it fails to get to the heart of the problem Kawall articulates. Kawall's argument however fails to make clear the problem with promising to supererogate because his discussion relies on the plausibility of the following claim: that supererogatory actions cannot also fulfil obligations. I argue that this view is mistaken because there are clear examples of supererogatory actions that also fulfil obligations. In the final section, I give my alternative account of the problem, identifying exactly what is wrong with fulfilling a duty, and thus keeping a promise, to supererogate. My diagnosis emphasises the importance of identifying non-supererogatory actions when it comes to understanding the way in which supererogatory actions go above and beyond the call of duty.

Comment: Good further reading on the topic of supererogation.

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Hurd, Heidi. The Moral Magic of Consent
1996, Legal Theory 2(2): 121-146.
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Added by: Carl Fox
Abstract: We regularly wield powers that, upon close scrutiny, appear remarkably magical. By sheer exercise of will, we bring into existence things that have never existed before. With but a nod, we effect the disappearance of things that have long served as barriers to the actions of others. And, by mere resolve, we generate things that pose significant obstacles to others' exercise of liberty. What is the nature of these things that we create and destroy by our mere decision to do so? The answer: the rights and obligations of others. And by what seemingly magical means do we alter these rights and obligations? By making promises and issuing or revoking consent When we make promises, we generate obligations for ourselves, and when we give consent, we create rights for others. Since the rights and obligations that are affected by means of promising and consenting largely define the boundaries of permissible action, our exercise of these seemingly magical powers can significantly affect the lives and liberties of others

Comment: Good introduction to the topic of consent as it makes clear both how strange it is as a power and how pervasive it is in our moral practices. Goes on to provide an interesting argument for consent as a subjective mental state and offers an account of what that might be. Could support a lecture or seminar on consent, or would make good further reading if the topic is only touched on briefly.

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Liberto, Hallie. The Problem with Sexual Promises
2017, Ethics, 127(2): 383-414.
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Added by: Emma Holmes, David MacDonald, Yichi Zhang, and Samuel Dando-Moore
Abstract: I first distinguish promises with positive sexual content (e.g., promises to perform sexual acts) and promises with negative sexual content (e.g., promises to refrain from sexual acts—as one does when making monogamy promises). I argue that sexual content—even positive sexual content—does not cause a promise to misfire. However, the content of some successful promises is such that a promisee ought not to accept the promise, and, if she does accept, she ought then to release her promisor from the promise. I argue that both positive and negative sexual promises have content of this kind.

Comment: Liberto argues that promises to have sex, and promises not to have sex, are a special type of promise that it is morally wrong to make. She does this by first arguing why promises to have sex are “overextensive”. This means that sexual promises promise something too important: sex. After she concludes that promises to have sex are overextensive she spends the second half of the paper arguing why promises not to have sex (i.e. monogmany promises) are not disanalogous to promises to have sex, and thus are also overextensive.

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Shiffrin, Seana. Promising, Intimate Relationships, and Conventionalism
2008, Philosophical review. 117(4): 481-524.
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Abstract: The power to promise is morally fundamental and does not, at its foundation, derive from moral principles that govern our use of conventions. Of course, many features of promising have conventional components—including which words, gestures, or conditions of silence create commitments. What is really at issue between conventionalists and nonconventionalists is whether the basic moral relation of promissory commitment derives from the moral principles that govern our use of social conventions. Other nonconventionalist accounts make problematic concessions to the conventionalist's core instincts, including embracing: the view that binding promises must involve the promisee's belief that performance will occur; the view that through the promise, the promisee and promisor create a shared end; and the tendency to take promises between strangers, rather than intimates, as the prototypes to which a satisfactory account must answer. I argue against these positions and then pursue an account that finds its motivation in their rejection. My main claim is: the power to make promises, and other related forms of commitment, is an integral part of the ability to engage in special relationships in a morally good way. The argument proceeds by examining what would be missing, morally, from intimate relationships if we lacked this power.

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