The Importance of Self-Promises

Connie S. Rosati

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

20 Scopus citations


Many philosophers have been skeptical about the existence of promises to self, and in fact, self-promises appear to face a dilemma. Critics have argued that promises to self are conceptually impossible. Since the agent is both promisor and promisee, she can release herself from a self-promise at will, and so she was never really bound. Self-promises, in short, cannot be genuine because unlike our promises to others, they cannot create obligations. Even if it could be shown that self-promises are not conceptually impossible, they seem to be of little importance or effect. It seems clear why we would need and want to make promises to others, but why would we ever need or want to make promises to ourselves? This chapter attempts to address this dilemma. The chapter argues that the supposed possibility of "self-release" does not show that promises to self are impossible. Insofar as there is a real difficulty for the possibility of self-promises, it lies in making out a plausible distinction between release from a self-promise and breach of that promise. But this difficulty, The chapter suggests, can be answered. The chapter goes on to offer a preliminary defense of the importance of self-promises, arguing that their importance lies in how they may function to serve our interest in autonomy-in having effective authority over ourselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPromises and Agreements
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophical Essays
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199893836
ISBN (Print)9780195377958
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • Authority
  • Autonomy
  • Control
  • Darwall
  • Kant
  • Owens
  • Promise
  • Release
  • Sanction
  • Self-promise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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