Dawson, pp. 189-190: Cohen, The Basis of Contract

46 Harv.L.Rev. 553, 571-574, 580-583 (1933).


Why should promises be enforced?


        One theory says that all promises are sacred and should be enforced to enforce morality. Cohen asserts that this is inadequate and impossible in practice.

        Others claim that it is necessary to enforce all promises in order to maintain a rational society. Cohen claims that this is not realistic to the real world. He implies that not all promises are kept in the real world, and yet we still have rational society, therefore, it is not necessary that 100% of promises be kept.

        Some say all business promises should be enforced, but Cohen says this is too inflexible, and not even necessarily desirable to everyone who does business.

        Most people favor enforcing promises with an element of quid pro quo, where there is a promise offered in exchange for a promise or some other good. Cohen suggests that this requirement of exchange reflects a need for formality in making binding promises. He claims that customs and ceremonies that represent agreement create a standard that we feel bound to follow.


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