Loyalty Is Not a Virtue

June 29, 2010    By: Geoff J @ 11:13 pm   Category: Ethics

The subject of loyalty came up over at a recent Bloggernacle Times thread. Jacob J stirred the pot a little by saying the following:

I think loyalty is vastly overrated. In all the cases when loyalty is cited as the motivation for virtuous behavior that same behavior could/should have been motivated by a less problematic virtue like fairmindedness or kindness. In plenty of cases, loyalty is a name for going against your better judgment to do something wrong, covering something up, or sticking up for a person who is in the wrong.

This comment was met with resistance but Jacob is entirely correct. Loyalty is a useful motivational tool to be sure but is hardly a virtue itself.

First some definitions. Here are a few applicable definitions of “Loyalty” I found online:

- The state or quality of being loyal. See Synonyms at fidelity. (Several dictionaries used something like this. “Loyal” was defined as “faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations” and “characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance, obligations, etc”)

- the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations. (Dictionary.com)

- A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection. (Answers.com)

- a feeling of allegiance (thefreedictionary.com)

- unswerving in allegiance (Wiktionary)

Clearly there are many instances in life when loyalty leads to virtue. Loyalty to spouse and family can lead to virtue. Loyalty to friends and loyalty to God can lead to virtuous actions too. We have all seen loyalty lead to virtuous behavior in these areas.

But of course loyalty to friends or country or even religion can also lead to horribly immoral actions. For instance Nazi soldiers in concentration camps were probably very loyal. Suicide bombers are extremely loyal folks. The list could go on and on.

Further, Jesus made some striking comments about loyalty. He was the one who said:

26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

So basically Jesus was saying; Be loyal to me and disloyal to your family if push comes to shove. Likewise our entire missionary program relies on a hope for a certain level of disloyalty in people. We hope that members of other churches will be disloyal to those churches and join ours. Is that a moral problem? Absolutely not. Because loyalty in itself is not a virtue and disloyalty in itself is no sin/vice. Loyalty is more like a motivational tool that can lead to either virtue or vice in our lives.

Perhaps this point is so obvious that it didn’t need to be made here. But the conversation over at that BT thread made me wonder. What say ye?

60 Comments »

  1. Never thought it that way.
    I will never ever be loyal anymore!

    Comment by Niklas — June 29, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  2. Maybe loyalty isn’t the word Steve wanted to use exactly but just friendship (“the grand fundamental principal of Mormonism”). All of us hope that our friends would defend us, focus more on our good qualities than our failings, etc.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 30, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  3. Geoff, I find it ironic that you are backing me up on this since I long ago recognized you as one of the most loyal people I know. When I was thinking of everything bad about loyalty recently I remembered your example on various threads over the years and it made me want to be more loyal.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2010 @ 12:39 am

  4. I’m kind of torn in two on this one. For starters, a really close friend of mine and I had a rather serious falling out a couple years ago over this exact issue. He thought that I wasn’t near loyal enough. I thought that I was going to side with whoever I thought was morally right, regardless of my relationship to them. I think that both extremes are probably wrong.

    Game theoretical models of the origin, evolution and survival of moral systems also come to mind. In such models cooperation is basically how morality is defined and cooperation does not survive in systems with blind, random interaction among agents. And one of the primary ways in which cooperation evolves (although not the only way) is by way of reciprocation which to me sounds suspiciously close to loyalty.

    I also wonder whether we might be getting the cart in front of the horse in this debate. According to some theories which I find largely persuasive loyalty is a basis of morality, just like harm and fairness are. By these lights, some people might think that loyalty is a virtue entirely independent of whether something is fair or harmful to others.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 30, 2010 @ 12:50 am

  5. I agree. Loyalty in and of itself is not a virtue. Whether or not it is a virtue depends on a couple of things I think:

    - The object of the loyalty
    - The fruits of the loyalty

    These things (and possibly others) is what will make the loyalty virtuous or not.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 30, 2010 @ 4:18 am

  6. Is there a virtue that has any bad quality about it? Is there anything bad found within humility or patience? Steve Evans mentioned one of the bad examples of loyalty: George W Bush, who would only have people who were loyal to him, rather than loyal to the Constitution. I agree with you, that loyalty is not a virtue, because it can be used for good and for bad just as equally.

    Comment by Dan — June 30, 2010 @ 5:55 am

  7. Wow, this is a challenging one, as loyalty is basically one of the greatest underlying tenets of my marital life.

    I guess to me being loyal to someone means something less tangible but more substantial than mere allegiance.

    It’s like when I do something my wife doesn’t disagree with, but she don’t call me on it in front of the kids, but instead takes me aside.

    I can see where loyalty can be a vice, but I think all virtues can be vices. Even patience and humility. (Too much patience = non-assertive, Too much humility = gutless flip-flopper)

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2010 @ 7:07 am

  8. What is loyalty and what is love? My wife has been told repeatedly by her mother that one of her best qualities is that she is fiercely loyal. I don’t know exactly what she means by that other than that she fiercely loves and serves and forgives her family members. I mean, under Geoff’s definition it sounds like unconditional love is another form of loyalty, right? Continuing to love someone regardless of their pain inflicted, questionable ethics or infidelity is being loyal, right?

    Comment by Rusty — June 30, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  9. Suppose one said instead:

    “I think following the law is vastly overrated. In all the cases when the law is cited as the motivation for virtuous behavior that same behavior could/should have been motivated by a less problematic virtue like fairmindedness or kindness.”

    The reason why loyalty is a virtue is that it makes possible levels of social comity that would be impossible without it.

    The same thing may be said of rule based systems of ethics. We follow various constraints, such as attorney client privilege, etc, not because the immediate consequences of doing so is optimal in all cases, but because in the long run following such rules produces better results all around. Loyalty is a good thing for the same reason rule consequentialism is.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  10. “…but Jacob is entirely correct.”

    It was a three line comment. It cannot be entirely anything.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 7:48 am

  11. Geoff:

    How is being “faithful to obligations or commitments” not virtuous? It sound like you want to redefine the term.

    Dan:

    Does GWB live under your bed? in your closet? or is he everywhere?

    Comment by PaulM — June 30, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  12. Good comments all. It is becoming clear that this is deliving into that murky areas called ethics. Ethics debates are always hard to pin down.

    I’ll respond in reverse order.

    PaulM: How is being “faithful to obligations or commitments” not virtuous

    Well, when the obligation or commitment one is being faithful to is to commit genocide the loyalty is anything but virtuous.

    Chris H.: It was a three line comment. It cannot be entirely anything.

    Hehe. Wow that was a feeble attempt at a comeback Chris. I know you can do better than that.

    Mark: Loyalty is a good thing for the same reason rule consequentialism is.

    Interesting point. Still I think loyalty itself is a-moral. It can be used to lead to good or bad.

    Rusty: it sounds like unconditional love is another form of loyalty, right?

    There is clearly a lot of overlap in our terms on these things. For instance when the mother of a serial rapist/murderer helps her son evade police that might be an act of unconditional love and loyalty but it is not moral or good.

    Matt — Good points about humility and patience. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

    Dan — Same as Matt.

    Eric — Word.

    Jeff — Good points all around. Ethics debates are messy things.

    Jacob — Weird that you would think of me as super loyal. Is that because I tend to back up my homies in blog threads? I guess I do that…

    Steve — The problem is what to do when a friend wants you to do something you find morally questionable?

    Niklas — Knock yerself out.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  13. BTW — Here is the link to an interesting SEP article on the question of whether loyalty should be considered a virtue.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  14. I’m surprised no one has brought up Joseph Smith’s ethic of loyalty.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 30, 2010 @ 10:26 am

  15. Loyalty is a virtue, but much like all virtues it can be twisted to serve various ends. Our character strengths usually serve as our weaknesses depending on the circumstance. The goal should be to possess all virtues and allow them to interact within us so that we can utilize those that are applicable at any given time.

    Comment by M — June 30, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  16. Some years ago we had a girl’s camp chairman who submitted “We Stand United” as the theme for girls camp.
    I said, we stand united for what?
    She said, I don’t know what you mean?
    I said, Well, some of our girls in our stake are standing united to change their clothing at school into unmodest clothing. They’re united. They help keep these secrets. So what is you want them to stand united for?
    She said, Oh, I get it.
    They came back with a more meaningful and complete theme.

    Comment by Hal — June 30, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  17. Stapley — please expound. I can’t recall the specifics about Joseph Smith’s ethic of loyalty.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  18. Some commenters, including Bushman, I believe, have remarked that much of what actuated Joseph Smith’s practice and expansion of controversial doctrines in Nauvoo was based on his notions of loyalty. Even from the earliest moments he reacted far worse to disloyalty than to sin. Some may even say he was willing to overlook sin for loyalty’s sake. This gets condensed and concentrated in the Masonic Lodge and the in the Temple. I think that Brigham Young especially was aware of this and exemplified it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 30, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  19. Well, that makes me feel better about myself. Because I’ve been said to have been incredibly disloyal. Like when I addressed the court on behalf of the victims of the sexual abuse scandal and sort of spoke against my friend. Although not really. But then I talked smack about the whole family. Actually I’m still talking smack about the whole family. After reading this, though, I’m feeling rather virtuous.

    Comment by annegb — June 30, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  20. Well, all’s I said in court was that I knew the kid knew better and that we trusted his father, our bishop. I said if he wasn’t sentenced for what he did then it would be penalizing the victims. But I pretty much got hanged in effigy. And I can understand why. It was terribly disloyal of me. Just by way of explanation. Which isn’t a problem on this thread since it’s a virtue or at least not not a virtue.

    Comment by annegb — June 30, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  21. Geoff,

    Matt — Good points about humility and patience. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

    Dan — Same as Matt.

    Well yeah, but does humility become a vice? Does patience? One may be too humble, or too patient, but those aren’t vices.

    Comment by Dan — June 30, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  22. Stapley,

    Even from the earliest moments he reacted far worse to disloyalty than to sin. Some may even say he was willing to overlook sin for loyalty’s sake.

    Bingo. This is a perfect example of loyalty run amock. A lot of the really objectionable stuff that happened in the early church was a direct result of this. Loyalty became almost the highest virtue and in such a position it will almost inevitably lead to people to do terrible things. I recently read Van Wagoner’s Dialogue article on Sarah Pratt and it is full of examples of this. Orson Pratt’s letter at the top of page 86 in that article is particularly striking. It is easily understandable why loyalty came to be so prized in the early church given the amount of suffering Joseph and the Saints endured due to former family, friends, and members who turned against them. It is hard to read the history and not get the sense that it became unhealthy though.

    It seems to me that loyalty works well in a supporting role, but when it gets elevated above more fundamental virtues it quiclky becomes the justification for doing things people know better than to do. Maybe we could give it the award for “best virtue in a supporting role.” This is why I get nervous when I hear people say that loyalty is the key virtue for them. To me that is a red flag that someone has misunderstood loyalty as the highest virtue (or too high a virtue) and bad things are sure to follow. Examples are that Vort fellow over at Mormon Matters, George W as referenced by Steve in the podcast, and Joseph Smith as mentioned above. This perspective comes through in my response to Vort on BiV’s thread.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

  23. Geoff: Is that because I tend to back up my homies in blog threads

    Yes.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  24. Well yeah, but does humility become a vice? Does patience? One may be too humble, or too patient, but those aren’t vices.

    I’m confused by your use of the term vices. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    I think loyalty is like faith, it can be good when directed to the right source, it can be bad when misdirected. I do think its a virtue, but in the Platonic sense, I do not assign it as the highest Form to seek after. I think truth, love, and often justice win out in a cage-match against loyalty.

    Comment by B.Russ — June 30, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  25. Jacob J: I maintain that loyalty is a virtue because no stable social organization or interpersonal relationship can be maintained without it.

    The claim that loyalty is not a virtue is equivalent to the claim that friendship is not a virtue, because no true friendship can survive with out it.

    That is not to say that loyalty cannot be turned to sustain unhealthy relationships and organizations, but that on the whole it is hardly amoral or neutral. A campaign to discredit loyalty is (on the whole) as foolish an enterprise as a campaign to discredit trust. It leads to atomizing individualism of a socially destructive kind.

    Many a tainted social organization can be reformed by degrees, obliterating it is usually not the fastest way to health, happiness, and prosperity. On the contrary, it much more quickly leads to disease, destruction, and death.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  26. Dan #21,

    What is your response to Matt’s #7. I think he shows that virtues can become vices.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  27. My take is that loyalty is a virtue so long as it entails one sacrificing their interests rather than their conscience for another.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 30, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  28. “Hehe. Wow that was a feeble attempt at a comeback Chris. I know you can do better than that.”

    Feeble, indeed. I said my bit over at BTimes. I am good with that. BTW, my loyalty has led me to defend conservative colleagues and the the conservative position on gay marriage on T&S. Loyalty has made many people on the left turn on me.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  29. Mark: The claim that loyalty is not a virtue is equivalent to the claim that friendship is not a virtue

    Are you claiming friendship is a virtue? I think friendship in abstract suffers from the very same problems I pointed out with loyalty. That is friendship can lead to virtuous behavior but it just as easily could lead to morally atrocious behavior. If friendship were virtuous itself parents wouldn’t care who their kids were friends with because being friends at all would be a virtuous thing.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  30. Mark,

    Loyalty can be still considered essential to individual happiness and to a functioning society without being considered a virtue in itself. I am emphatically not on a campaign to “discredit loyalty”. Decoupling loyalty from the tag of independent “virtue” is not discrediting the concept of loyalty. Loyalty is clearly an ingredient for living a virtuous life. It is just not independently a virtue itself (since it can just as easily be an ingredient to an evil life).

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  31. Geoff J #26 & Matt #7),

    I agree.

    If I might use my “Dan-esque” philosophical name dropping technique, I’m sort of beholden to Aristole’s “Doctrine of the Mean” theory.

    (for those unaware of it, I’m stopping short intentionally to intimidate you)

    Comment by Riley — June 30, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  32. Agreed that loyalty is not a virtue. I disagree, however, with the notion that true virtues can become vices.

    Take humility, for example, which I consider to be a true virtue. Making poor judgment choices is always a possibility for all people, and there are some poor judgments that a humble person might make that a proud person might not make (being a gutless flip-flopper, for example).

    However, being humble – even being extraordinarily humble – in no way requires gutless flip-flopping choices. Humility isn’t the cause of gutless flip-flopping, poor judgement making is.

    (And this is all in contrast to loyalty – which is itself a form of judgment making, and thus not a virtue.)

    Comment by Eric Russell — June 30, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  33. And if I may take a shot at much of the political left while I’m at it, I think the alleged claims of the Al Gore’s alleged mistresses friends is a poignant example of loyalty going wrong.

    Allegedly they told her to keep quite about her Al Gore “encounter” because he needed to be fighting man-bear-pig and global warming, instead of being bothered with these adultery allegations.

    (assuming all these allegations are true)

    Comment by Riley — June 30, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

  34. Eric, so loyalty is a form of judgment and not a character trait? I will have to chew of that one.

    Riley: What are you doing?

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  35. Geoff,

    I would disagree with Matt’s interpretation (Too much patience = non-assertive, Too much humility = gutless flip-flopper). Assertiveness is not the opposite of patience, nor is flip flopping the opposite of humility. In other words, you can be patient and assertive (I know I have to be both with my daughter or I’ll get run over). And humility is simply unrelated with taking oscillating positions. You can be humble and change your views as often as you want.

    Comment by Dan — June 30, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

  36. Riley #31 — Nice. (Name-dropper-Dan was commenting here just yesterday)

    Eric R — I think you (and others) have a point about the virtue/vice thing. And I could also buy the argument that there is a category difference between loyalty and humility. In fact I have mostly been arguing here that loyalty belongs in a different category than the “virtues” category.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

  37. Geoff,

    Um, just to be clear, I’m not the Dan that commented in earlier posts with no link to a blog.

    Comment by Dan — June 30, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  38. Yep, that’s why I referred to that other Dan as “Name-dropper-Dan”.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

  39. Oh, come on. Can’t you do better than “Name-dropper-Dan?”

    Comment by Dan — June 30, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  40. Not on a PG-rated blog.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  41. Hehe. Good call Chris. The other nickname I considered was already taken. See here.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

  42. Are you claiming friendship is a virtue?

    On the whole, an unquestioned good, absolutely.

    I could add a few more that are contingent on loyalty: marriage, family, church, state, company, economy, attorney client privilege, and doctor patient confidentiality.

    Fidelity, loyalty, fiduciary responsibility, all pretty much the same thing.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

  43. #41 Geoff: made my day.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

  44. So, Mark, friendship is not a virtue but a good and loyalty is a virtue needed for the attainment of such goods?

    Since we are citing the SEP, this section of Aristotle discussion of friendship and virtue was interesting to me (and I am too tired to try to explain it):

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/#Fri

    Comment by Chris H. — June 30, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

  45. Glad you approve Chris.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  46. Mark D — I agree that friendship is a good thing. But that wasn’t the question. The question of this post is one of categorization. Assuming there is a category of virtues, which character traits belong in that category?

    The wiki on virtue is pretty useful I think. It defines virtue thus:

    Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a character trait or quality valued as being always good in and of itself.

    Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting individual and collective well being. The opposite of virtue is vice.

    Loyalty is actually generally included in lists of virtues. But it seems to me that while things like kindness and compassion and charity are among the things that are always good and moral, things like loyalty and friendship are a notch below them because they may or may not inspire moral behavior in a person. In other words loyalty could inspire a a person to be kind, compassionate, and charitable but it could just as easily inspire them to be cruel, thoughtless, and selfish (normally to people they do not feel loyal to of course).

    Maybe somebody out to put together a virtues pyramid to rank and categorize the quality of the characteristics that are often lumped in with virtues… (as long as the someone isn’t me of course)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

  47. So, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if “loyalty” is “loyalty” when it isn’t “always good in and of itself”. IE- when does loyalty stop being loyalty and turn into some form of ethnocentrism or stubbornness?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2010 @ 6:46 am

  48. Geoff, I agree that there are higher virtues than loyalty. That doesn’t mean that loyalty is not a virtue at all.

    It is like a claim that emotional stability is not a virtue, on the grounds that emotional stability can help evil people be more effective. Or that love is not a virtue because the love of some people is poorly directed. If loyalty is not a virtue, nothing is.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 1, 2010 @ 6:49 am

  49. This is getting back to the heart of meta-ethics in asking why is a thing good or bad. What kinds of things can be good in and of themselves? As a consequentialist, I take things to be good or bad based on their consequences. It seems like several people are agreeing with the idea that loyalty is at best a mid-level virtue. That’s because when it is in conflict with other virtues it usually turns out that following the other virtues will lead to the best consequences. All virtues can find themselves in conflict with others so there is nothing concerning about that. The SEP points out the problem:

    Perhaps the frequency with which the demand for loyalty is used to “justify” engagement in unethical conduct has led to cynicism about its value. There is a certain resonance to the saying that “when an organization wants you to do right, it asks for your integrity; when it wants you to do wrong, it demands your loyalty.” What might it be about loyalty that makes it vulnerable to such uses? (SEP, Loyalty)

    I think this is asking the right question. Why is loyalty so prone to abuse? Why does is it so frequently used to justify unethical behavior? Pointing out that friendship or love can similarly be misused misses the point that the problematic part of loyalty is the frequency and ease with which it is twisted to unethical ends. This problem with loyalty explains why it should yield to other virtues and why it should not be considered a top tier virtue.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  50. Jacob J: There are an extraordinary number of circumstances where loyalty properly pre-empts what are normally considered to be “higher” virtues.

    I have mentioned a few already: attorney client privilege, doctor patient confidentiality, marital confidentiality, the obligation of employees to their employers and vice versa, children to parents and parents to children, the role of judges, following the law even when the results aren’t ideal, etc.

    So why is it a good idea for loyalty and obligation to pre-empt higher virtues like kindness, compassion, justice, and general social welfare in each of these cases?

    I maintain that some of the reasons is the same as for rule consequentialism in general: the difficulty of forming accurate consequentialist judgments in many cases and the deterrent effect that such rules have on other questionable actions.

    The other seems to me to be that the consequences of being able to trust no one, are worse than the benefits of being kind and compassionate in some cases. And that is why this sort of obligation has been formalized in law, the law of fiduciary obligation in particular, and strongly adopted in common ethics as well.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 2, 2010 @ 8:23 am

  51. Mark,

    I think your comparison to rule consequentialism is a good one. However, I am not clear on how those examples you provided illustrate loyalty pre-empting kindness, or compassion, or any other higher virtue. The examples you gave are not situations I have thought deeply about, so I may be easily persuaded I am wrong, but my first impression is that these are cases where we enforce by law an obligation of confidentiality which goes well beyond what would really be best if all people involved could be trusted to behave according to the higher moral virtues.

    Laws often overstep the bounds we’d like them to specifically because it is impossible to legislate the exceptions. The reason we cannot legislate the exceptions is due both to our inability to formalize morality in rule form and also the fact that people will maliciously look for ways to exploit, twist, and evade the meaning of the words we write to capture the exception. Thus, using examples from fiduciary obligations seems like a bad way to go since they are guaranteed to be a crude shadow of the real moral law adapted to the policing of the immoral.

    Is there an example where marital confidentiality trumps kindness that I’m not thinking of?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 2, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  52. Jacob, there are cases where kindness to others (as in concern for their welfare) may motivate someone to break a confidence.

    Admittedly, this particular combination does not occur very often with marital confidentiality, but it is common with other forms of confidentiality. Suppose someone is about to purchase a very expensive computer system from your employer. Meanwhile you know that there is a much improved model coming in a couple of months, but it hasn’t been announced yet.

    In the name of kindness, you might leak this news to the customer. But it is the sort of thing that is a breach of confidence in this case, because of all the bad things that might happen if models are announced prematurely. Sales might stop, the company could get in financial trouble, go out of business, the new model might be delayed, the companies reputation might be injured, and so on.

    Conflicts between kindness to third parties and attorney client privilege happen all the time too. What if your client really is in the wrong and you can save a third party an enormous amount of pain and heartache (if not financial loss) by disclosing privileged information? If there wasn’t such a rule, why would anyone who had done anything wrong (or didn’t know whether they had done something wrong) trust an attorney to represent them?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 2, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

  53. Darn! I wish I had tickets for this summer’s “Kickspit Underground Rock Festival”. See comment 41.

    Comment by kristen j — July 6, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  54. Mark,

    I don’t think your examples of loyalty pre-empting higher virtues work. I’ll address them.

    there are cases where kindness to others (as in concern for their welfare) may motivate someone to break a confidence.

    This sounds like higher virtues trumping loyalty, not the other way around.

    In the name of kindness, you might leak this news to the customer.

    Yet the employee probably has a contractual agreement to not injure the company so there is more than loyalty at play. Plus the employee might be leaning on kindness toward the company or fellow employees. So this example is pretty flimsy.

    The same basics apply to the legally-required sort of “loyalty” an attorney shows. Those sorts of things are probably more an issue of integrity and fidelity to contracts, oaths, and covenants associated with the role; all of which would trump personal loyalties.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2010 @ 9:31 am

  55. Great post Geoff. Actually, I think I had been slowly coming to this realization but had not quite made it this far or been able to articulate it this nicely. It has been clear to me for a while now that there is nothing special about being loyal aside from the fruits that may result from it.

    I suppose this is why I have no problem analyzing the church, or its leaders. It’s not that I am disloyal, but rather that I want to do what’s right even if it means calling out the bad while praising the good.

    Comment by jmb275 — July 7, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  56. Personally, I have to disagree, Geoff. I do think Loyalty is a virtue and an important one at that. One of our main purposes is to learn to be Christlike, and the way I read the scriptures, I see Christ as a very loyal person (see for example, Matt 28:20). Now, perhaps we are splitting hairs or playing with definitions, but that is the way I see it.

    As has been said before, like any virtue, it can naturally be twisted to unhealthy (and unChristlike) ends. Being generous is a virtue, but, as Elder Nelson says, it needs to be done “In the Lord’s Own Way.” It’s not so much a matter of Loyalty not being a virtue because it can be used to motivate immoral actions. Any single virtue can be used to motivate immoral actions, if implemented while ignoring the other virtues. Virtues mus be taken as a whole, grown together, not independently nor one at a time. Whenever a single virtue is isolated, taken by itself, and placed on some sort of pedestal as the only virtue that needs to be considered, it can, with very few exceptions, easily lead to some very immoral acts.

    Loyalty is a virtue. The fact that some people have used it to motivate immoral actions does nothing to affect that.

    Comment by Bill — July 8, 2010 @ 8:00 am

  57. I’m of a mind that loyalty is a virtue. But like so many virtues it is contingent on our priorities. I’m very loyal to my brother for example. But if my brother committed a serious crime and asked me to cover up his actions, my loyalty would be superceeded by another value: honoring and obeying the law. Loyalties are very important, and I think that we would all want to have friends and family memebers who would be loyal to us in times of distress. But we have priorities too. I am also a Christian, and, as sited above, Jesus said that those who love family more than Him are not worthy of him. I love my family, but between my loyalty and alligience to my family, my alligience to Christ is much more important. So I think that the real question is how do we decide which loyalties are worth our alligience and which have to take second place?

    Comment by John Doe — July 8, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

  58. “love my family, but between my loyalty and alligience to my family, my alligience to Christ is much more important.”

    I understand where you are coming from. At the same time, I find this sentiment horribly disturbing.

    Comment by Chris H. — July 8, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  59. This is a really interesting concept. I do find a few holes in it however.
    I will take just the instance of a convert needing to be disloyal to his or her former religion, thus proving that disloyalty is not a vice. Is that person indeed being disloyal to their old way of life? Well, perhaps, but I see it more so as they have found a new purpose to life, God, and following Christ, and that is where their new loyalty, with much clearer vision lies.
    When considering loyalty and virtue it is very important to look at both ends of the spectrum.

    Comment by John Doe — July 10, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  60. Loyalty is a virtue with an asterisk.

    Comment by BHodges — July 21, 2010 @ 7:05 am

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