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William Vitek
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    William Vitek enlarges our understanding by treating the act of promising as a social practice and complex human experience. Citing engaging examples of promises made in everyday life, in extraordinary circumstances, and in literary works, Vitek grapples with the central paradox of promising: that human beings can intend a future to which they are largely blind.

    Promisingevaluates contemporary approaches to the topic by such philosophers as John Rawls, John Searle, Henry Sidgwick, P.S. Atiyah, and Michael Robbins but transcend their more limited focus on promissory obligation. Vitek's innovative approach moves beyond theories of language, ethics, and law to unveil a complex human activity subject to shifting interpretations and changes in nature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0409-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Paradox of Promise: Some Introductory Remarks
    (pp. 1-34)

    Friedrich Nietzsche’s prose cuts clear to the center and identifies the fundamental paradox of promising: human beings can intend a future they see only vaguely. In promising, we engage our wills in the process of getting the future to turn out as we planned. But it is precisely our relative blindness about the future that requires us to predict it boldly and then to guide our lives’ activities—and the lives of others—toward it. Hence, the promise demands assertiveness, commitment, and certainty at precisely the point where we are least able to give it. It is not surprising, then,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Approaches to Promise: The Contemporary Landscape
    (pp. 35-94)

    It is a perfectly good piece of common sense to believe that promises are obligatory and that after having made a promise one should, all things being equal, keep it. But as Ludwig Wittgenstein notes with frustration, philosophers cannot keep themselves from questioning the ordinary person’s good sense and from seeking grounds to justify the ordinary person’s claims. Wittgenstein would, no doubt, despair of the abundance of contemporary philosophical literature devoted to promise and to the problems of justification that arise when a philosopher asks, “Why should we keep our promises?” It would be a mistake, though, to reject this...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Laced Up in Formulas: Contemporary Approaches Considered
    (pp. 95-143)

    Collectively, the material cited in Chapter Two represents some of the best work in contemporary philosophy. The authors are well known and their contributions are much discussed in the literature. It is perhaps presumptuous to take them to task for failing to generate a theory of promise when they never intended to formulate such a theory to begin with. It would certainly be presumptuous if I were to offer an alternative approach along the lines of what we have just seen. Instead, I intend to offer an alternative method: to ask and address not only how promises create obligations but...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Outlines of a Theory of Practice
    (pp. 144-189)

    The institutional approach to promise uses constitutive rules to create and define actions within institutions. There is no checkmate without the rules of chess, no touchdown without the rules of football, and no promissory obligation without the rules of promise. I argued that although such a view may be able to capture certain aspects of games and public institutions, it cannot capture promise or a number of other meaningful activities. Making tea in Britain (or as the British do), for example, appears to be recognizable activity in which one participates without there being any constitutive rules to govern it. So...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Promise as Practice
    (pp. 190-233)

    Having outlined a theory of practice, it is time to address the questions of whether promise is describable as a practice and whether the practice approach to promise is superior to the alternatives canvassed in earlier chapters. I begin by showing how promise fits into a practice framework and then argue that this approach avoids the many criticisms leveled at alternative approaches. In short, I claim that a practice approach of promise is not only possible but preferable to these other alternatives.

    A practice was described as, among other things, recognized, conventional behavior that takes place between two or more...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 234-236)

    This study has urged a broader view of promise than has been taken by numerous contemporary approaches. If promise is seen as a complex social practice, then theoretical approaches must likewise be conceptually rich and reflect the social nature of this practice. This requires a willingness on the part of philosophers to go beyond the confines of contemporary philosophical theorizing. It demands that philosophical theories concerned with social practices be informed by the empirical findings of those who study these practices and by the experiences of practitioners. It is, after all, no small point if the central case employed by...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 237-254)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-266)
  12. Index
    (pp. 267-270)