Prince Saprai, ‘Promising Under Duress’

In her chapter ‘Duress and Moral Progress’, Seana Shiffrin offers a novel perspective on coerced promises. According to the dominant view, these promises confer no right to performance on the coercer and do not create new reasons for the victim. Shiffrin accepts that these promises fail to confer rights, but disagrees that they never alter the victim’s moral profile. She argues that they do at least where promises are ‘initiated’ by the victim, rather than ‘dictated’ by the coercer. The initiation of a promise, albeit in far from ideal circumstances, opens the door, Shiffrin claims, to valuable opportunities for moral progress. In this response, I argue that Shiffrin makes a misstep by not rejecting the dominant view altogether. I suggest that the older Hobbesian picture, according to which coerced promises do confer rights, is supported by our moral and legal practices. Furthermore, it makes moral progress more likely.

Prince Saprai, Promising Under Duress, Law and Philosophy. First Online: 8 May 2019.

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