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The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 159–183 | Cite as

Promising Ourselves, Promising Others

  • Jorah Dannenberg
Article

Abstract

Promising ourselves is familiar, yet some find it philosophically troubling. Though most of us take the promises we make ourselves seriously, it can seem mysterious how a promise made only to oneself could genuinely bind. Moreover, the desire to be bound by a promise to oneself may seem to expose an unflattering lack of trust in oneself. In this paper I aim to vindicate self-promising from these broadly skeptical concerns. Borrowing Nietzsche’s idea of a memory of the will, I suggest that self-promising involves an activity of the will, aimed at the preservation and protection of one’s values. I explain how, understood in this way, these promises can indeed bind, and show that the motivation for making them need not involve mistrust or other alienated attitudes. I then turn to interpersonal promising, arguing that this same activity of the will is required for sincerely promising others: in effect, making a sincere promise to another requires making a promise to oneself. Attention to this under-appreciated aspect of interpersonal promising enriches our understanding of all promises, and helps to correct a narrow and distorted picture of what it means to be bound.

Keywords

Memory of the will F. Nietzsche Promising Promising yourself Self-promising 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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