This Faculty Working Paper has been updated and posted within the Georgetown Law Faculty Publications series in the Scholarly Commons. It is currently available at http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/632/
This essay, written for "Contract as Promise at 30" at Suffolk Law School, examines the moral obligations contractual agreements generate. It distinguishes a narrow sense of "promise," central to autonomy theories, according to which to promise is to communicate an intention to undertake an obligation by the very communication of that intention. Not every agreement involves promises in this sense. Yet nonpromissory agreements too commonly generate moral obligations. And even when a party promises to perform, her promise need not be the only reason for her moral obligation to do so. Other possible reasons include reliance, an invitation to trust, implicit or explicit, principles of reciprocity, and the harm that nonperformance might cause the parties' relationship. This description of the moral landscape of contractual agreements complicates the project of finding a moral basis for contract law's duty-imposing function. The essay applies it to critically assess some recent arguments claims the relationship between contract and promise from Michael Pratt, Jody Kraus and Seana Shiffrin.