Law and Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 5–6, pp 465–480 | Cite as

Promising Under Duress

  • Prince SapraiEmail author
Open Access


In her chapter “Duress and Moral Progress”, Seana Shiffrin offers a novel perspective on coerced promises. According to the dominant view, these promises confer no right to performance on the coercer and do not create new reasons for the victim. Shiffrin accepts that these promises fail to confer rights, but disagrees that they never alter the victim’s moral profile. She argues that they do at least where promises are ‘initiated’ by the victim, rather than ‘dictated’ by the coercer. The initiation of a promise, albeit in far from ideal circumstances, opens the door, Shiffrin claims, to valuable opportunities for moral progress. In this response, I argue that Shiffrin makes a misstep by not rejecting the dominant view altogether. I suggest that the older Hobbesian picture, according to which coerced promises do confer rights, is supported by our moral and legal practices. Furthermore, it makes moral progress more likely.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawsUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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