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DB Forum 2

ETHC 101

“Is It Ever Moral to Break a Promise?”

The definition of a promise is “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified.” Morality can stem from our background, our feelings, society, God, and many others. I am going to look at the connection between morality or immorality and promises.

Promise keeping is important because in the Bible, it tells us, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” If I tell my roommate that I am going to clean the apartment before she gets home, she is going to expect that it will be done. If you break promises often you are going to become known as untrustworthy. Not only are you making your life more difficult by making promises that you don’t keep, you are making others’ more difficult as well. Personally, if I can make someone else’s life easier, I will make my best effort to do so. When looking at the big picture many people might see that it is never morally permissible to break a promise. Although, when looking at certain scenarios I could see it being acceptable.

Yes, I think it is permissible to break a promise, but only in certain situations. Such as, if you made a promise that in the end was going to negatively affect more people than it would positively affect people, that would be a situation where it would be permissible. More specifically, let’s look at the vow of ‘till death do us part.’ This is a personal story for me. My parents at the age of four were not getting along. It was making everyone miserable; my brother, family, friends, myself included. My father was emotionally abusive to my mother and for two years, even at my young age, I could see the hurt that he was causing. My mother couldn’t take it anymore and decided it was time to consider a divorce. They tried everything from counseling to being separated and reunited. It didn’t seem to help at all. That is when it all became real, especially to my mom. She admitted that she failed. She didn’t place blame on anyone else for the broken promise of her marriage vows. In this case though, I find the broken promise permissible because keeping the promise was hurting more people than breaking it. The good news today, my parents have both changed, grown, and are friends. Of course, this isn’t the only situation where promise breaking is permissible but I think it must be for the right reasons, under the right conditions. When you know you are going to break a promise I think you should be upfront, to those that will be affected, about the situation. You cannot place the blame of the broken promise on others, you must take responsibility. And lastly, look for ways you can make up for the broken promise to show that you really do care.

Permissible and morally obligatory are two different things. Permissible means “an action is allowed or permitted.” Obligatory is that “you are required or it is your duty.” The only circumstances that I believe that you would be morally obligated to break a promise would be when life or safety is at risk. For instance, your best friend confides in you that she is having suicidal thoughts and she makes you promise to not tell anyone. I think you are morally obligated to share this information with someone to help her and potentially save her life.

Overall, promise keeping is morally important to uphold your trust to others but in the end, there are circumstances when it is acceptable to break a promise.

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