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Social Theory and Practice


published on September 17, 2018

Ingrid V. Albrecht

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.

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