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surances, it would be impossible to know what judgment to form of many future events, or how to regulate our conduct with respect to them. Confidence therefore in promises is essential to the intercourse of human life; because, without it, the greatest part of our conduct would proceed upon chance. But there could be no confidence in promises, if men were not obliged to perform them : the obligation therefore to perform promises is essential, to the fame end, and in the fame degree. .
Some may imagine, that, if this obligation were suspended, a general caution and mutual distrust would ensue, which might do as well ; but this is imagined, without considering, how every hour of our lives we trust to, and depend upon others; and how impossible it is, to stir a step, or, what is worse, to sit still a moment, without such trust and dependance. I am now writing at my ease, not doubting (or rather never distrusting, and therefore never thinking about it) but that the butcher will send in the joint of meat, which I ordered; that his fervant will bring it; that my cook will dress it; that my footman will serve it up; and that I fhall find it upon table at one o'clock. Yet have I nothing for all this, but the promise of the
butcher, and the implied promise of his servant and mine. And the same holds of the most important, as well as the most familiar occurrences of social life. In the one the intervention of promises is formal, and is seen and acknowledged; our instance, therefore, is intended to show it in the other, where it is not so distinctly observed.
II. In what sense promises are to be interpreted.
Where the terms of a promise admit of more senses than one, the promise is to be performed “ in that sense in which the promiser appre“ hended at the time that the promisee re“ ceived it.”
It is not the sense in which the promiser ac- . tually intended it, that always governs the interpretation of an equivocal promise ; because, at that rate, you might excite expectations, which you never meant, nor would be obliged, to satisfy. Much less is it the sense, in which the promisee actually received the promise ; for according to that rule, you might be drawn into engagements which you never designed to undertake. It must therefore be the sense (for there is no other remaining) in which the promiser believed that the promisee accepted his promise.
This will not differ from the actual intention of the promiser, where the promise is given without collusion or reserve; but we put the rule in the above form, to exclude evasion in cases in which the popular meaning of a phrase, and the strict grammatical signification of the words differ, or, in general, wherever the promiser attempts to make his escape through some ambiguity in the expressions which he used.
Temures promised the garrison of Sebastia, that, if they would surrender, no blood should be shed. The garrison surrendered ; and Temures buried them all alive. Now Temures fulfilled the promise, in one sense, and in the sense too in which he intended it at the time; but not in the sense in which the garrison of' Sebastia actually received it, nor in the sense in which Temures himself, knew that the garrison received it; which last sense, according to our rule, was the lenfe he was in conscience bound to have performed it in.
From the account we have given of the obligation of promises, it is evident, that this obligation depends upon the expectations which we knowingly and voluntarily excite. Consequently, any action or conduct towards another, which we are sensible excites expectations in that other,
is as much a promise, and creates as strict an obligation, as the most express assurances. Taking, for instance, a kinsman's child, and educating him for a liberal profession, or in a manner suitable only for the heir of a large fortune, as much obliges us to place him in that profession, or to leave him such a fortune, as if we had given him a promise to do so under our hands and seals. In like manner, a great man, who encourages an indigent retainer; or a minister of ftate, who distinguishes and caresses at his levee, one who is in a situation to be obliged by his patronage, engages, by such behaviour, to provide for him.-This is the foundation of tacit promises.
You may either simply declare your present intention, or you may accompany your declaration with an engagement to abide by it, which constitutes a complete promise. In the first case, the duty is satisfied, if you were fincere, that is, if you entertained at the time the intention you expressed, however soon, or for whatever reason, you afterwards change it. In the latter case, you have parted with the liberty of changing. All this is plain ; but it must be observed, that most of those forms of fpeech, which, ftriąly taken, amount to no more than declarations of present
intention, intention, do yet, in the usual way of understanding them, excite the expectation, and therefore carry with them the force of absolute promises. Such as, “ I intend you this place.”— “ I design to leave you this estate.”—“ I pur“ pose giving you my vote.”—“ I mean to serve “ you.”—In which, although the “ intention,” the “ design,” the “purpose,” the “ meaning,” be expressed in words of the present time, yet you cannot afterwards recede from them, without a breach of good faith. If you choose therefore to make known your present intention, and yet to reserve to yourself the liberty of changing it, you must guard your expressions by an additional clause, as “ I intend at present”if I dont alter—or the like—and after all, as there can be no reason for communicating your intention, but to excite fome degree of expectation or other, a wanton change of an intention which is once disclosed, always disappoints somebody; and is always, for that reason, wrong.