I address the problem of why promises create obligations. First, I spell out and object the so-called "expectational account" according to which the duty to keep our promises arises from the fact that, when we promise to do something, we create an expectation in the promisee, which we have the duty not to disappoint. It has been claimed that this account is circular since we can only raise the expectation, in the appropriate sense, if we already have the moral duty to keep our promise. I argue, against Scanlon and others, that such circularity is unavoidable. In the second section, I develop an alternative approach. Based on some ideas by H. Hart, H. Steiner, E. Mack, and others, I hold that the normative force of promises should be explained by its connection to the normative force of rights. Promising to do X should be understood as an act of surrendering our liberty-right not to do X. The central question is, therefore, how we come to have the moral power to limit our liberty-rights. My suggestion is that such power is conceptually linked to the very idea of exercising rights.
Promises, Expectations, and Rights,
Chi.-Kent L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/cklawreview/vol81/iss1/4