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Speech MattersOn Lying, Morality, and the Law$
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Seana Valentine Shiffrin

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691157023

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691157023.001.0001

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Duress and Moral Progress

Duress and Moral Progress

(p.47) Chapter Two Duress and Moral Progress
Speech Matters

Seana Valentine Shiffrin

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines what moral obligations, if any, remain or are incurred when one promises under duress. In general, duress holds that unjustified or wrongfully exerted coercion entirely exonerates the party subjected to undue pressure from responsibility for whatever actions the duress produces. This is the dominant view, one that is powerful and attractive. The chapter explains whether and why it should matter that one's promisee is a moral criminal, the proverbial highway robber. It first draws a connection between honoring initiated promises under duress and the conditions of moral progress, taking into account issues such as those relating to third parties and contracts. It then proposes an alternative to the dominant view about promises made under duress, an alternative inspired by some remarks of Immanuel Kant and of Adam Smith. It concludes by considering some objections to the moral appropriateness of honoring promises made under duress.

Keywords:   moral obligations, third parties, contracts, promises, duress, coercion, moral progress, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith

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