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Promises and Conflicting Obligations

by David Owens

This paper addresses two questions. First, can a binding promise conflict with other binding promises and thereby generate conflicting obligations? Second, can binding promises conflict with other non-promissory obligations, so that we are obliged to keep so-called “wicked promises”? The answer to both questions is yes. The discussion examines both “natural right” and “social practice” approaches to promissory obli-gation, and I conclude that neither can explain why we should be unable to make binding promises that conflict with our prior obligations. I also consider the parallel case of “wicked commands.”

ISSN 1559-3061
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