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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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What is a Promise?

What is a Promise?

(p.189) 8 What is a Promise?
Shaping the Normative Landscape

David Owens

Oxford University Press

What is it to make a sincere promise? It is commonly believed that a sincere promisor must intend to do what he is promising to do. But a promisor need not communicate the intention of doing what he is promising to do. For example, a promisor can sincerely promise in anticipation of being released from their promise and without forming any intention to perform. A sincere promisor is rather one who intends to change the normative situation in a certain way, namely by undertaking the obligation of doing what he is promising to do. In this respect sincerity in promising is like sincerity in the exercise of other normative powers like command, a parallel suggested by the authority interest theory. Finally, the fact that it is often difficult to tell when someone has promised to perform, rather than merely expressed the intention so to do, does not undermine the importance of the distinction between communicating a promise and a mere intention.

Keywords:   sincerity, release, intention, normative power, communication, command, authority interest

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