Benn, Claire, and . What is Wrong with Promising to Supererogate

2013, Philosophia 42: 55-61.

Abstract: There has been some debate as to whether or not it is possible to keep a promise, and thus fulfil a duty, to supererogate. In this paper, I argue, in agreement with Jason Kawall, that such promises cannot be kept. However, I disagree with Kawall’s diagnosis of the problem and provide an alternative account. In the first section, I examine the debate between Kawall and David Heyd, who rejects Kawall’s claim that promises to supererogate cannot be kept. I disagree with Heyd’s argument, as it fails to get to the heart of the problem Kawall articulates. Kawall’s argument however fails to make clear the problem with promising to supererogate because his discussion relies on the plausibility of the following claim: that supererogatory actions cannot also fulfil obligations. I argue that this view is mistaken because there are clear examples of supererogatory actions that also fulfil obligations. In the final section, I give my alternative account of the problem, identifying exactly what is wrong with fulfilling a duty, and thus keeping a promise, to supererogate. My diagnosis emphasises the importance of identifying non-supererogatory actions when it comes to understanding the way in which supererogatory actions go above and beyond the call of duty.

Comment: Good further reading on the topic of supererogation.

Shiffrin, Seana, and . Promising, Intimate Relationships, and Conventionalism

2008, Philosophical review. 117(4): 481-524.

Abstract: The power to promise is morally fundamental and does not, at its foundation, derive from moral principles that govern our use of conventions. Of course, many features of promising have conventional components—including which words, gestures, or conditions of silence create commitments. What is really at issue between conventionalists and nonconventionalists is whether the basic moral relation of promissory commitment derives from the moral principles that govern our use of social conventions. Other nonconventionalist accounts make problematic concessions to the conventionalist’s core instincts, including embracing: the view that binding promises must involve the promisee’s belief that performance will occur; the view that through the promise, the promisee and promisor create a shared end; and the tendency to take promises between strangers, rather than intimates, as the prototypes to which a satisfactory account must answer. I argue against these positions and then pursue an account that finds its motivation in their rejection. My main claim is: the power to make promises, and other related forms of commitment, is an integral part of the ability to engage in special relationships in a morally good way. The argument proceeds by examining what would be missing, morally, from intimate relationships if we lacked this power.

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