Heidi Hurd, ‘Promises Schmomises’

Abstract:
In this piece, I argue that promises need not be kept just because they were made. This is not to say, however, that unwise, unhappy, and unfortunate promises do not generate obligations. When broken promises will result either in wrongful gains to promisors or wrongful losses to promisees, obligations of corrective justice will demand that such promises be kept if their breach cannot be fully repaired. Thus, when a broken promise will constitute a deliberate loss transfer for personal gain, the duty not to exact unjust enrichment (a wrongful gain) will require a promisor either to honor her promise or craft a means of ensuring that the promisee’s impoverishment is not traded for her enrichment. And when a broken promise will constitute the culpable imposition of a reliance-based injury on a nonculpable promisee (a wrongful loss), the duty to make others whole when one has purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly injured them will require one either to keep one’s promise or to fashion a remedy for its breach that ensures that the promisee is left no worse off than he would be had the promise not been made. This account explicitly parts ways with normative powers theories of promising. It places no weight at all on the raw fact that a promise has been made …

Heidi M Hurd, Promises Schmomises, Law and Philosophy. First Online: 4 February 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s10982-017-9290-8.

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