International Journal of Social Policy & Education

ISSN 2689-4998 (print), 2689-5013 (online)

DOI: 10.61494/ijspe

Teaching the Value of Promising

Paul A. Wagner, Ph.D.


The Concept “I will gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Saying this makes a promise under the right circumstances. If the vendor accepts, a contract arises from the exchange. Extending beyond this fragment of standard contract law, there are more basic elements of moral and communal survival at stake. Promising introduces the derived concept of obligation. Failure to live up to one’s obligation is a source of being ashamed of oneself and being the subject of shaming by others (Moffett, 2018; 228-30). Once a promise is accepted and service or good provided, a contract exists and is often enforceable by law. But, even without the law, failing to live up to one’s obligations subjects the promiser to sanctions such as shaming and even punishment. “Dad, you promised!” Is an oft heard challenge when a promise is broken to a child. Very young children intuit that in promising, a person becomes obligated to one or more others (Mercier, 2020; p.92). Failing to live up to a voluntarily created obligation on oneself is expected to result in guilt if that same person aborts the obligation others came to rely upon. Legitimate excuses are license to abort an otherwise obligatory commitment. But to be legitimate, the excuses must be recognized by most others as plausibly discounting the afore mentioned obligation.