This Sunday we are discussing Loyalty. This is quite apt since even
during these holidays and crazy heat we have been having quite a good
discussion on Sundays.
All the best,
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Maybe loyalty is a concept more difficult to define and more complex to
analyze than say fidelity. We know exactly when and how we have to be
faithful and what constitutes being unfaithful.
We have to be faithful to someone when our declared love for them is
reciprocated and we are unfaithful when we share our love (or physical
desires to be precise) with someone other than the person we claimed to
be in love with. If you are not sure or convinced about this just ask
your present partner to explain.
An important quality or feature of loyalty is what John Kleinig
describes in his essay on the subject in the Stanford encyclopedia of
philosophy as "The test of loyalty is conduct rather than intensity of
feeling...." In other words loyalty is something we do and not some
thing we feel.
But although conduct is a necessary condition it is of course not a
sufficient one. We can fake behaving "as if" we are loyal but we cannot
fake loyalty. One of the reasons that we cannot fake loyalty is because
loyalty is tested and proven under adverse conditions. Being faithful to
your partner is not a question of prevailing conditions but whether you
go with someone else or not. One's loyalty is proven when we have to
take some serious decisions where either us or the person we are loyal
to is going to suffer.
If we accept this situation we probably need to investigate the question
of motivation. Why be loyal? Why commit ourselves to someone when there
is a good chance we might be put in a disadvantageous situation,
especially in the future? But to claim this I have to assume that now we
are not in a disadvantaged position and more importantly, my loyalty is
based on some free will. If not either party could be taking advantage
of the situation and this is hardly a situation when one acts from free
In turn this implies an evolutionary meaning (see Kleinig essay for more
on this debate) because we can assume that not only there must be some
gain in being loyal, but also a rational meaning of loyalty. There must
be gain because otherwise it will be altruism, and rational because we
have to make a choice now taking into consideration possible future events.
This is not, therefore, to be mixed up with behaving "as if" we are
loyal. To behave "as if" is to behave now according to the prevailing
conditions, and not in consideration of possible future obligations we
see ourselves bound by.
There are, in my opinion, two other issues related to loyalty. If
loyalty can be an advantage for us, do we confer some sort of advantage
to the person we are loyalty to? And does our loyalty imply some sort of
obligation on the person we are loyalty to?
To answer the first question I would assume that there must be some sort
gain conferred on the person we are loyal to. If no gain is conferred on
the other person than this could easily be described as selfishness
because the benefit is one way, our way, and I have already established
that we do gain when we are loyal otherwise it would be altruism.
However, there is one big proviso for this.
Thinking that we are conferring a gain on the other person it does not
follow that this gain we think we are conferring is useful, beneficial,
appreciated or even known by the other person. We might think we are
conferring huge benefits on the other person but they might see what we
are doing just a matter of course of events.
As to whether the other person has some sort of obligation towards the
person who is loyal to them (reciprocated loyalty) this depends on a
number of factors. I would say that those factors would include
recognizing that the loyal person is conveying some useful benefit
(think win-win strategy here) and that the person who is receiving the
benefit from the loyal person is receiving this benefit is doing so
freely. As I have argued, for there to be loyalty there must also be a
free choice to be so. Oppression or acting from a position of
inferiority would, in my opinion, negate any chance of loyalty.
On this interpretation, I accept that this would immediately rule out
loyalty between employee and employer. But not necessarily between
directors of a company who are supposed to be peers.
I now wish to consider an issue which I will put forward in non
philosophical terms: what's the big deal about loyalty? In other words,
what can we do with loyalty which we cannot do with other things? For
example, between selfishness and altruism we can cover both the key
aspects of loyalty, i.e. receiving a gain and conferring a gain.
Of course, we cannot be selfish and altruistic about the same thing at
the same time, but we can receive a gain and confer a gain under the
terms and conditions of loyalty.
Maybe the big deal about loyalty is that it is a human rational strategy
when we consider the issues in terms of the future and in terms on
investing more effort in some relationships and not others. Another
aspect of loyalty is that unlike fidelity, it need not be declared
explicitly to be practiced or feel bound by it. For fidelity to take
effect there must be a public declaration by the two parties of love and
therefore of fidelity. We cannot be unfaithful to some we have not
declared our love to. However, we can be loyal to someone without
telling anyone about it.
It seems to me that although loyalty is based on rational reasoning
there must also be some emotional attachment involved. Maybe we feel
grateful for the way the other person treats us, maybe we feel grateful
for considering us as an equal. The reasons might be numerous, but the
emotional component if there is one, would make the matter more complex
which it is.
Finally I wish to consider two cases.
Kleinig also discusses the standard example in this debate of the loyal
Nazi. He does this in the context of the debate of whether loyalty is a
virtue; and citing Ewin (see essay for references) who thinks that
loyalty is not a virtue because there can be a loyal Nazi.
I do not wish to enter this debate because I personally believe that
loyalty is an evolutionary strategy and not an ethical virtue. This
might make loyalty less romantic, but in my opinion will certainly make
it more indispensible for human relationships. Moreover, in my opinion,
loyalty does not have much to tell us on the debate of the ethics of
Nazism (and vice versa). Although the ethics of Nazism is another
debate, a quick empirical look at the facts would go a long way to show
the fallacy of this doctrine (ditto with the so called communism)!
The second case is, can animals be loyal and to get to the point, are
dogs really loyal? At face value I am neither a dog psychologist nor a
dog so I cannot really say much on the topic. However, I have a strong
feeling that what we think is loyalty on the part of our pet dog is none
other than an extremely clever execution of a win-win strategy. And some
dogs are good at it or bred for it and some are not.
Could it be that some people are just loyal and some are not?
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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Loyalty