Is it possible that, in a world without promise, people would be just as likely, or perhaps even more likely, to be autonomous? The paper takes issue with a mainstream view in contemporary literature on promise (and, similarly, contract) – a view by which the capacity to promise enhances personal autonomy, and can thus be explained and justified by reference to its value. The challenge to the mainstream view is animated by way of noting the possible autonomy-related value of a change of mind, and takes the shape of exploring some (perceived) qualities of promises that may be thought to render that practice exceptionally hostile to a change of mind – in particular, that promissory obligations are strict liability, that broken promises carry (often equally onerous) reparative obligations in their wake, and that the power of the promisee over the promisor appears to be ungoverned by any binding norms. Having set up – and ultimately dismissed – that challenge, the paper concludes with some related observations concerning promise, contract, and the relationship between the two.
Kimel, Dori, Promise, Contract, Personal Autonomy, and the Freedom to Change One’s Mind (March 1, 2013). Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19/2013.