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A promise is a commitment by someone to do or not do something. As a noun promise means a declaration assuring that one will or will not do something. As a verb it means to commit oneself by a promise to do or give. It can also mean a capacity for good, similar to a value that is to be realized in the near future.

In the law of contract, an exchange of promises is usually held to be legally enforceable, according to the Latin maxim pacta sunt servanda.

There are many types of promises. There are solemn promises, such as marriage vows or military oaths. There are legal contracts, enforceable by law. Or, there are fairy tale promises, regrettable and problematic at the time they must be honored. And lastly, there are election promises, commitments that most people realize will later be shaped by politics and compromise.

Both an oath and an affirmation can be a promise. One special kind of promise is the vow.

A notable type of promise is an election promise. Election promises are pledges that will be later shaped by politics and the cooperation of individuals.

A promise is a manifestation of intent to act or refrain from acting in a specified way at some point in the future. It's communicated by one party, to at least one additional party, to signify a commitment has been made. The person manifesting intent is the Promisor. The person to whom the manifestation is addressed is the Promisee.

In law, contracts are created by a process of offer and acceptance. An offer to enter into a binding contract consists of an indication by the Oferror to be legally bound by the terms indicated in the offer once the person to whom the offer is addressed, the Offeree, has accepted the offer in the manner indicated in the offer (if any). Once acceptance has taken place, a binding contract has come into existence and both parties are legally bound by its terms. A contract is therefore a voluntarily assumed legal obligation. A party who fails to perform his obligations under the contract is said to be in breach of contract and is liable to compensate the other party. Compensation normally takes the form of payment of a sum of money sufficient to place the party entitled to damages in the same position as in which that party would have been if the contract had been performed. For instance, if A agrees to sell a car to B for $10,000 and B agrees to pay, then if A fails to deliver the car, B would be entitled to compensation sufficient to enable B to purchase a similar car without having to spend more than the agreed price. Therefore, if by the time of the breach the price of the car has increased by 10%, A would be liable to pay B $1,000, assuming that B has not paid anything yet. If B has paid a deposit of $5,000, then B would be entitled to restitution of his deposit plus the $1,000. A contract may consist of mutual undertakings, as in the example just given, where A agreed to deliver a car and B agrees to pay for it. Such contracts are known as bilateral contracts. But a contract may only give rise to an undertaking by one party, as where A agrees to pay B if B finds a particular car which A has been trying to acquire. B is under no duty to search but would be entitled to payment if she finds the car.

  • Plato, The Republic (ca 370 BC) Book I, 33IB
  • Cicero, De Officiis (ca 20 BC) I, C. IO, III, cc. 24-25
  • Decretals of Gregory IX lib. II, tit. 26, C. 27, canon law did not enforce all promises
  • Reinach, The Apriorischen Grundlagen des Bürgerlichen Rechtes (1922) §§ 2-4, that all rational societies need to have some way of making promises binding
  • Hooker, Brad. "Moral Rules and Principles." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Donald M. Borchert. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 382-385.


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