The Sociology of Loyalty

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Search within In This Article I. Introduction II. Standards of Conduct A. The No-Conflict Rules B. The No-Profit Rule C. The Duty of Good Faith D. Duties of Disclosure E. Remedies IV. Contractual Modifications and Waivers B. Multiple Beneficiaries C. The Theory of Loyalty VI. Conclusion Notes. Abstract and Keywords This chapter addresses the fiduciary duty of loyalty. Andrew S. Gold Andrew S. We have come to value the associational bond for its own sake whatever may have originally motivated it.

Our loyalties are not just to any groups that may exist, or even to any group with which we have some association, but only to those to which we are sufficiently closely bound to call ours. My loyalties are to my friends, my family, my profession, or our country, not yours, unless yours are also mine. We feel shame or pride in their doings. We will take extra risks or bear special burdens for them. Although our primary loyalties tend to be associations or groupings that are socially valued, such that loyalty may seem to be an important practical disposition, this need not be the case.

For in theory, any association can become intrinsically important to us, whether or not it is generally valued, and it may do so even if it is socially despised. Football teams and coffee chains, gangs and crime families, may become objects of loyalty no less than professional associations and siblings.

This raises the important question whether judgments about the worth of loyalty are reducible to judgments about the worth of the associations to which loyalty is given or the legitimacy of what is done as a result of them. Does loyalty have any value independent of the particular associational object with which it is connected or is its value bound up exclusively with the object of loyalty?

There is disagreement on this paralleling disagreements about the obligatoriness of promise keeping. Some would argue that loyalty is virtuous or vicious depending on what is done out of loyalty.

The Problem of Loyalty

Others would argue that loyalty is always virtuous, though overridden when associated with immoral conduct. Consider the complicated case of a loyal Nazi. Ewin would argue that because a Nazi can be loyal, loyalty could not be a virtue, for the virtues are internally linked to the idea of good judgment. Whether that follows can be disputed. The loyal Nazi might express that loyalty in a number of ways as a husband and father, as a compassionate co-worker, or as a scourge of Jews and in at least some of these ways loyalty would appear to function as a virtue unless, perhaps, there is some special Nazi way of being a husband.

In the more interesting case of a loyal Nazi whose loyalty expresses itself in anti-semitic forms, we could respond in one of two ways. On the one hand, we could point to the fact that the loyalty is likely to aggravate the harm caused. On the other hand, were such a Nazi to act disloyally by allowing Jews who bribed him to escape, we could argue that he is doubly deficient—self-serving and defective in his capacity to form close bonds. Certainly the value of particular associations is of importance to how we value loyalty to them; but it is doubtful whether the value of loyalty is simply reducible to the value of the association in question.

Failures of loyalty often result in betrayal of B , sometimes to C. The loyal A will get up at 2.

No third party is involved, but there will be a cost to A. The essence of disloyalty is more likely to be found in the blandishments of self-interest or self-maximization than in external temptations C. Some defenders and critics of loyalty take the frequent presence of C as a reason for seeing loyalty as inherently exclusionary. No doubt some loyalties—especially political ones—frequently express themselves in such terms.

But jingoism is not necessary to patriotic loyalty pace Tolstoy , and in most contexts the privileging of an object of loyalty B does not require treating others C badly. Loyalty is generally seen as a particularistic virtue. That is, it privileges certain groups or individuals. Are particularistic obligations subsumable under universalistic ones honor your father and mother or are they independently derived?

If the latter, do they stand in permanent tension obligations to the poor vs. How, if at all, are conflicts to be resolved? The discussion has its modern roots in Enlightenment ideas of equal respect and of what is therefore owed to all by virtue of their common humanity. Both consequentialist and Kantian universalism have some difficulty in accommodating particularist virtues such as loyalty, and on occasion have eschewed the latter.

Although most classical theorists have tended to accord moral priority to universalistic values, there have been important exceptions. Although Oldenquist denies that there is a nontribal, universalist morality, thus seeking to deprive the universalist of any independent traction, he does not do much to establish the primacy of the tribal apart from its temporal priority.

Williams obviously has a point, though even he concedes that such projects are not impervious to universalistic challenges Williams, 17— Many systematic moral theorists attempt to anchor particularistic virtues such as loyalty in larger universalistic premises. Hare, for example, adopts a two-tiered consequentialist position that seeks to justify the particularistic obligations of loyalty within a broader consequentialist schema: we contribute more effectively to overall well-being if we foster particularistic obligations.

Unfortunately, simply being aware of the larger schema may be sufficient to evacuate the particularistic obligation of much of its power—and, indeed, to call it into question. According to Railton, there are good consequentialist reasons for particularistic preferences, consequentialist reasons that do not undercut but honor the particularism of those preferences.

That, he believes, does not require that the agent subjectively decide to maximize the good—indeed, it may require that the agent not make such calculations. Overall, then, a loyalty to friends and family, and commitment to ground projects may maximize good, even though, were one to make a subjective calculation, it would undermine the loyalty or commitment. Although there is some debate about the success of this strategy Wilcox; Conee , it goes some way to countering the common perception that universalistic or impersonal theories can find no place for particularist obligations.

Another two-tiered system, but of a nonconsequentialist variety, is suggested by Alan Gewirth, who accords primacy to the principle that it is a necessary condition for human agency that all be accorded equal rights to freedom and well-being.

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That commitment, he believes, will also be sufficient to ground special obligations such as those finding expression in personal, familial, and national loyalties. Such voluntary associations are formed not merely for instrumental purposes, as contributions to our freedom, but are expressive of it. It may be that particularistic obligations such as those of loyalty have to be considered as sui generis, products not simply of our common humanity but of our sociality, of the self-realizing significance of associational bonds—most particularly friendships, but also various other associational connections that come to be constitutive of our identity and ingredients in our flourishing.


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That leaves, of course, the problem of resolving conflicts with universalistic obligations when they occur. The primary subjects of loyalty tend to be individual persons, but loyalty is not restricted to these. Mutuality is a feature of many loyalties, and it is often a normative expectation of the loyal individual that the collectivity to which the individual is loyal will also be loyal in return Ogunyemi. Just as we personify organizations, regarding them as in some sense responsible actors, so we can attribute loyalty to them or—more often—bemoan their lack of loyalty to those who have been loyal to them.

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May animals be loyal? Tales of canine loyalty are legion, and even among wild animals, especially those that move in social groups, loyalty is often said to be shown. To the extent that loyalty is seen as an adaptive sentiment, we may think that animals are capable of loyalty.

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That may be a convenient way of characterizing animal behavior what Aristotle refers to as a "natural" virtue , though, as Fletcher observes, the kind of loyalty shown is limited because such loyalty cannot be betrayed. As noted, the primary objects of loyalty tend to be persons, personal collectivities, or quasi-persons such as organizations or social groups.

Some argue that it is only to such that we can be loyal Ladd; Baron. There is some reason to favor the more restrictive focus for loyalty.


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  • Our core loyalties, which also happen to be those that are psychologically more powerful Walzer, 5 , tend to secure the integrity of our particular human associations. To the extent that our moral obligations encompass not only our relations with other human beings in general but also our relationships with particular others—our friends, families, fellow citizens, and so on—loyalty will be partially constitutive and sustaining of these particular others in contexts in which narrow or short-term self-interest is likely to be better served by abandoning them.

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    If we further argue that the core of morality is concerned with the quality of relationships that people have with each other, both as fellow humans and in the various associative groups that they form, then loyalty will constitute an important dimension of that relational network. Although the particularism of loyalty is sometimes thought to be morally problematic, there is nothing in theory that prevents the particular group being the whole human race pace Ladd.

    In contexts in which the human race can itself be viewed as a collectivity, loyalty to it may sometimes be attributed. In identifying with the object of our loyalty, there is usually implicit in our loyalty a judgment that its object meshes with that for which we stand.

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    That is, embedded in those associations to which our loyalty is given are certain presumptions about the compatibility of the basic values attributable to the object of loyalty with those to which we are committed not that the values themselves are what ground the loyalty, for that might suggest that the loyalty is to the values. There may, of course, be some sort of persistence of loyalty despite a recognition that the object of loyalty is no longer worthy of it. Nevertheless, though it may sometimes appear to allow for attributions of loyalty to the supposedly embedded values, our loyalty is primarily to the affiliational object or person, and not to the particular values that it instantiates.

    The loyalty is to the object of an association or relationship , that is, the person or collectivity-in-relation. There are those who, on the basis of their particular theory of virtue, deny that loyalty could be a virtue. Ewin, for example, argues that because loyalty can be badly placed and because, once formed, it requires us not merely to suspend our own judgment about its object but even to set aside good judgment Ewin, , , , its pretensions to the status of a virtue are undermined, for the virtues are, he argues, internally linked to some idea of good judgment.

    There are two problems with this account. First, the understanding of the virtues may be thought too restrictive. As with loyalty, conscientiousness and sincerity can be directed to unworthy objects, but conscientiousness and sincerity do not for that reason fail as virtues. The second problem has to do with the idea that loyalty may require us to set aside good judgment.

    No doubt something of that kind is attempted by those who seek to exploit loyalty and other virtues such as generosity and kindness. But the radical questions need not be foreclosed, even if a well-formulated challenge is needed to generate them. If the setting aside of good judgment is sought, there is nothing to stop a person—albeit with a heavy heart—from questioning whether the object of loyalty may have forfeited claims to it. The trust that tends to accompany loyalty need not encompass gullibility and credulity.