Paradox of the False Promise

What is the Paradox of the False Promise?

The “Paradox of the False Promise” happens when someone says they will do something in the future but plans not to do it. Normally, a promise is thought to be a sure thing—a sign that something will definitely happen or not happen later on. This idea becomes tricky when we try to figure out if the person really ever meant to keep their promise. If they always knew they wouldn’t follow through, can we call it a true promise?

This paradox makes us think hard about whether promises mean anything if people don’t really plan to keep them. It also looks at the moment when a promise goes from being true to being a lie. Is it when the person first makes the promise, or is it not until they fail to do what they said they would?

Simple Definitions of the Paradox of the False Promise

A promise is when you tell someone you will do something in the future. Life is full of promises; you make them to your friends, family, and in all sorts of places like stores or even in court. The “Paradox of the False Promise” is about when you promise something you already know you won’t do. Here’s one way to explain it: Imagine your friend promises to give you a ride to a movie but secretly knows they will cancel because they don’t really want to go. On the outside, it seems like a normal promise, but because your friend never meant to keep it, it’s a lie, even at the moment they said it. This creates a puzzle because we expect promises to be real, but how can they be if they’re not true from the start?

Another way to explain it is by thinking about the future. Promises are all about what will happen later. If you set a date with your friend but your friend knows they will be sick that day, your friend’s promise is a problem from the very beginning, right? But here’s the twist—if they end up healthy and show up, was the promise still false? This is what makes this paradox so interesting and hard to solve. It involves guessing the future and knowing what someone is really thinking.


  • Broken Friendship: Two friends promise to keep each other’s secrets forever. One of them plans to tell another friend the secret the very next day. This is an example because the secret-sharing friend’s promise was never real. They knew they’d tell someone else, so the promise was a false one.

  • Money Back Guarantees: A shop says they’ll give you your money back if you’re not happy with your purchase, but they make it super hard to actually get a refund. This promise is false because the shop never makes it easy or possible for you to get your money back, even though they say they will.

  • Sports Team Tryouts: A coach promises every player a fair chance to make the team, but they have already picked their favorites. The promise to give everyone a fair try is false because the coach’s decision was made even before the tryouts.

  • School Attendance: A student tells their teacher they will come to school every day, knowing they will skip every Friday. This student’s pledge to attend daily is never true because they had already decided to skip days.

  • Political Promises: A politician promises to lower taxes if elected, but has plans to spend more and not lower taxes at all. Their commitment is a perfect example of a false promise because they’re saying something to win votes but know they won’t do it.

Why is it Important?

Understanding the “Paradox of the False Promise” is essential because it happens a lot in real life, and it teaches us about trust. Our world runs smoothly when we can count on each other’s words. If people often made promises they didn’t plan to keep, no one would trust anyone else, and things would be very chaotic. This is true for kids at school who rely on their friends’ promises, and for adults in more serious situations, like when they buy houses or make deals at work.

If we don’t discuss these ideas, we might not understand why it’s vital to be sincere when we make a promise. It affects our relationships and how we get along with others. When you know about this paradox, you’re more careful with your own promises and more aware when others make them to you. So, in a way, it helps us all be better friends, customers, and citizens.

Related Topics

  • Trust: Trust is when you believe someone will do what they say. It’s related because the “Paradox of the False Promise” breaks trust and leaves you questioning if you should believe someone’s words.

  • Ethics: Ethics are the rules about what’s right or wrong that guide our behavior. This paradox makes us think about whether it’s ever okay to make a promise you don’t mean, and that’s a question of ethics.

  • Contracts: Contracts are like promises that are written down and official. They’re related because, like promises, they should be based on truth. If the person who signs a contract doesn’t mean to follow it, it’s much like making a false promise.

  • Deception: Deception is when you trick someone into believing something that’s not true. The “Paradox of the False Promise” involves deception because it’s about making someone believe you’ll do something when you won’t.

  • Intent: Intent is what you plan to do. This idea is linked to the paradox because the whole problem starts with someone’s intent not to keep their promise.


The “Paradox of the False Promise” is a puzzle about whether promises can be true if someone thinks they won’t keep them. It gets us thinking about how important it is for us to really mean what we say, especially when we promise something to someone else. It shows us that our words and plans for the future are more than just sounds or thoughts; they have the power to build trust or break it. By exploring this paradox, we learn not just about promises, but also about being honest and the kind of people we want to be in our world full of promises.