I have a meta-dispute with my nephew about whether a dispute over a loan is a financial issue or a moral one. I would like to hear from a professional philosopher whether or not I am correct in framing that meta-dispute as a moral issue.
The fundamental dispute is this: my nephew has had to file for personal bankruptcy twice, and in 2009 had got himself into deep debt again. No institution was willing to loan him money. He now needed $10,000 to avoid bankruptcy. He approached his mother and me, asking to borrow that amount from my mothers (his grandmother's) savings. My mother approved lending the money provided he agreed to pay it back in a regular manner. I was given the task of deciding what was a regular manner. He agreed to the deal that I would write checks to his creditors provided he signed a promise to begin paying the money back at an agreed-upon rate in January 2010. The checks were written, the promise written out and signed. It was not notarized.
He never paid anything on the loan. He claimed inability. We did not press him for money.
(It should be noted that he has been diagnosed bipolar, but not severely so. He is given to overconfidence, which is largely responsible for his financial record. I can then be faulted for expecting him to repay, but that is not the issue.)
Recently he announced that he is restarting his life and is about to make a lot of money in a real estate deal (he is a Realtor). I asked him to include a restoration of his honor by signing a new promise - one he could actually pay on. I argue that the original deal was that I (representing his family) pay his debts and he sign a promise and keep it. Since he had signed a promise and not kept it, he had violated a moral principle. We (the family) would now forgive that if he would sign and keep a new promise, following up on the agreement to exchange such a promise for the loan.
We are not demanding a specific amount of money, knowing that he is currently in severe financial difficulties again. The point is that we want him to maintain his ethical standing with respect to us by signing a new promise and keeping it.
He claims that the issue is not moral, and that he owes us money and nothing else. Since he believes that he will soon be able to repay the loan in full, he is not obligated to renew the promise to pay over time.
I believe that the moral point of keeping a promise is a separate point. I want him to recognize his ethical commitment, even if the amount he pays regularly is insignificant. $20 a month has been suggested. He responds that he will pay the $20/month "to make you happy," but recognizes no moral obligation to sign a promise, and refuses to do so.
Is this a moral argument? If so, who is in the right?