Philosophy 290-2

Spring 2012

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-2 Graduate Seminar: Promises and Promissory Obligation Kolodny/Wallace M 12-2 234 Moses

Promises are ubiquitous phenomena that greatly facilitate human social life, but they are also philosophically elusive. Promising can be understood as a device for generating new obligations where there were none before, a device whose operations help us to coordinate our activities and to make effective plans for the future. But how exactly do promises function? Do promissory obligations result from our participation in beneficial social practices, or do they derive instead from the effects of the promise on the attitudes of the promisee? Can promises be binding even if nobody expects you to fulfill them? Promises seem to involve obligations that are directional, insofar as they are owed specifically to the promisee; but is this an idea that we can make good sense of? How do promises function in the law (what is the relation between promises and contracts?), and in the context of intimate personal relationships? What human interests ultimately ground the kind of “normative powers” that promising confers on agents?

The seminar will involve close study of some of the most important contributions to the extensive contemporary literature on promising. Philosophers whose works will be discussed include Raz, Scanlon, Thomson, Shiffrin, and Owens (among others).