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Volume 35, 2018

The Joint Commitment Account

Jeffrey S. Helmreich
Pages 217-234
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology20183512

The Bounds of Morality
Gilbert on Promissory Obligation

Margaret Gilbert’s ‘Three Dogmas about Promising’ is a paradigm-shifting contribution to the literature, not only for its account of promissory obligation based on joint commitment, but for its equally important focus on two properties of such obligation, which her account uniquely and elegantly captures: first, that the duty to keep a promise is necessary—the obligation stands regardless of the content or morality of the promise—and, second, that it is directed, with the promisee having unique standing to demand performance. A related point, implied by Gilbert’s argument, is that moral requirements, alone, can never have those properties. Here I challenge that point, arguing that moral requirements, under the right circumstances, can give rise to necessary and directed obligations, after all, and I propose one such moral obligation of which the duty to keep a promise may well be an instance. Nevertheless, I conclude, it may not provide as plausible a basis of promissory obligation as joint commitment.

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