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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 44, Issue 4, October 2018

Ingrid V. Albrecht
Pages 469-483
DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract201891344

Graveside and Other Asymmetrical Promises

People who make graveside promises consider themselves bound by them, which raises the question of whether a promise can morally obligate a promisor directly to a promisee who cannot acknowledge the promise. I show that it can by using the theoretical framework provided by “transaction accounts” of promising. Paradigmatically, these accounts maintain that the creation of a promissory obligation requires that the promisee consent to the promise. I extend these accounts to capture promises made by proxy and self-promises, and conclude that we can make promises to absent promisees when we bear responsibility for their moral and personal development.