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Shaping the Normative Landscape$
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David Owens

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199691500

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691500.001.0001

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The Promissory Interest

The Promissory Interest

(p.142) 6 The Promissory Interest
Shaping the Normative Landscape

David Owens

Oxford University Press

Various theories of promising are best understood as attempts to explain the distinctive features of the promissory bond in terms of the human interest served by promising. The function of a promise is not to serve our interest in social co-ordination but rather to serve our authority interest, our interest in controlling what others are obliged to do. A promise can serve this interest only when there is a social practice of taking promises seriously. Such a practice is constituted by a shared habit (rather than a collective policy) of recognizing that promises bind. This practice has an intelligible genealogy in that our habits evolve to serve our normative interests. But once such a practice has come into existence, we have the possibility of bare wronging, of people being wronged by breach of promise even though their interests (both normative and non-normative) are unaffected by it.

Keywords:   authority interest, function, genealogy, practice, bare wronging, shared habit, collective policy

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