Promises – Ethics Essay

by Benjamin Hammond

This is one of my older Ethics essays. It is about keeping a promise, and I thought it would be an interesting matter to post on my blog. So here it is:

Assess the view that it is always right to keep one’s promise.

From my perspective and point of view, it is the right thing to do to keep a promise, and not to break it. The reason I believe this, and possibly why others might believe this, is the Christian faith, and partly because of the damage and pain it can cause. Christianity/The Bible does say and imply that it is wrong to break an agreement, not just as a deontological rule (which some people see it as) e.g – ‘I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips‘ (Psalm 89:34), but there are teleological reasonings for keeping a promise. When a promise, or an agreement is formed between two people, or four people, or however many people, a thread of trust is formed. But when that promise is broken, the thread of trust is broken, and with it part of the person. The ability to trust again will be lowered (in the average human). The potentially sensitive information in the promise would have been let out and possibly caused a lot of pain and embarrassment to someone. For example, if Sam told Alex who he had a really big crush on, and Alex went and told that person, Sam could be really hurt because of the failed trust he put in Alex. Alex could lose a friendship with Sam, and Sam could be quite embarrassed when he is around the person who he has a crush on, who now knows. So we can see here how the breaking of a promise can cause pain and sadness, which is partly why myself and possibly some others believe that it is right to keep a promise, and wrong to break one.

However, it is understandable from another point of view why a promise might sometimes need be broken, and I stand for this too. In some situations (as there are many different situations that can occur) it may be considered a necessity to break a promise. For example, imagine that you are a train, bus, or plane. A man sitting next to you tells you that he is about to disclose as secret to you. He makes it clear that you should not tell anyone else – and you promise. He then proceeds to tell you that he has a bomb in his bag that is about to detonate. It is quite probable in such a situation that you will not keep your promise, and try and raise the alarm in the best way possible. I know I would. So, sometimes, it does depend on the situation. However, from my point of view (Christian), with the majority of promises, it is not a good idea to break them. The ultimate Christian guide is the Spirit of God, and no matter what situation you are in, when you follow his voice, you’ll know wether or not to break a promise.