“Immoral Promises”

imorawerz, via deviant art

That is the title of our most recent work in progress, which we posted here on the Social Science Research Network. As the title suggests, the focus of our paper is on illegal and immoral promises, like the ill-fated partnership between the fictional characters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. (In fact, our paper is meant to be read as a sequel to our previous working paper “Bargaining and Betrayal in Breaking Bad.”) Here is an excerpt:

The proposition that “promises ought to be kept” is one of the most important normative ideas or value judgements in our daily lives. Indeed, the promise principle is also relevant to politics and business transactions. But what about “immoral promises”? That is to say, what about promises that are, legally or morally speaking, malum in se or inherently wrongful, such as bribes, blackmail, murder, etc.? In short, what moral obligations, if any, do immoral or ‘bad’ promises impose? Although many of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization have offered a wide variety of theories to explain the source of promissory obligations, it turns out there is a blind spot in this centuries-old conversation, for few theorists have given the problem of illegal or immoral promises any sustained thought. Nevertheless, illegal or immoral promises should be of theoretical interest to us because such promises may help us delimit the outer boundaries of promissory obligations.

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