Breaking Promises

Why is promise-keeping morally important?

A promise is a declaration that an individual will do or refrain from doing something specified. The term also refers to a declaration that legally binds two individuals and which gives the person to whom the promise is made right to claim implementation of a particular act. When an individual fails to keep his or her word, it communicates that they do not value the person to whom the promise was made. It also shows the person who made the promise is unreliable. It also communicates to oneself  they value less on their words. There are conditions that force one to weigh the consequences of breaking or keeping a promise 

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Is it ever morally permissible to break a promise?

Yes, it is morally acceptable to break a promise depending on the situation at hand.

  1. It is morally acceptable to break a promise when the promise made was a foolish one. For example, consider two boys who were playing a gambling game, they promise each other that the looser has to undress his uniforms and go home naked while the winner takes both pairs of uniforms with him. Should there be a winner, it will be unsensible that an individual gives out his clothes just because he made a foolish promise.
  2. It is also morally acceptable to break a promise when keeping the promise has negative consequences while breaking the promise has no consequences. For example, consider the case of two men who work in the same office and are watching a football match while supporting different teams. They promise each other that the person whose team wins holds the keys for their cars until the following morning when they meet at work, while the person whose team wins has to go home, which is five kilometers away on foot. In such a situation, the loser is allowed to break the promise since keeping the promise will have no significant benefit. The person whose team won will gain nothing from allowing the friend to walk home on foot. 

Is it ever morally obligatory to break a promise?

Yes, it is morally obligatory to break a promise.

 This is especially when the situation is morally unconducive to keep the promise. For example, a mature lady makes a promise to go out on a date with her partner. Unfortunately one day before the date, the lady’s grandfather becomes ill and is admitted to the hospital. Even though the lady has the option to go on a date and not visit the grandfather, it is morally repugnant to the lady. The lady may not have any fun during the date because of guilt. So to maintain a state of sanity, it is morally obligatory to break the promise and instead listen to her conscious and do the right thing which is to visit the grandfather at the hospital. 

In the above example, the grandfather’s situation overrides the promise in importance and therefore breaking the promise becomes more preferable to the extent that it can be morally obligatory. 


 Promises are contracts, and breaking them is similar to defaulting on a deal. Breaking promises for unjustified reasons is unethical, and it has severe consequences. Conversely, when a situation occurs, it is acceptable, and in many instances, morally obligatory to break a promise.

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