From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Loyalty (disambiguation).

Loyalty is faithfulness or a devotion to a personcountry, group, or cause. (Philosophers disagree as to what things one can be loyal to. Some, argue that one can be loyal to a broad range of things, while others argue that it is only possible for loyalty to be to another person and that it is strictly interpersonal.)

There are many aspects to loyalty. John Kleinig, professor of Philosophy at City University of New York, observes that over the years the idea has been treated by writers from Aeschylusthrough John Galsworthy to Joseph Conrad, by psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, scholars of religion, political economists, scholars of business and marketing, and — most particularly — by political theorists, who deal with it in terms of loyalty oaths and patriotism. As a philosophical concept, loyalty was largely untreated by philosophers until the work of Josiah Royce, the “grand exception” in Kleinig’s words.[1] John Ladd, professor of Philosophy at Brown University writing in the Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Philosophy in 1967, observes that by that time the subject had received “scant attention in philosophical literature”. This he attributed to “odious” associations that the subject had with nationalism, including the nationalism of Nazism, and with the metaphysics of idealism, which he characterized as “obsolete”. He argued that such associations were, however, faulty, and that the notion of loyalty is “an essential ingredient in any civilized and humane system of morals”.[2] Kleinig observes that from the 1980s onwards, the subject gained attention, with philosophers variously relating it to (amongst other things)professional ethicswhistleblowingfriendship, and virtue theory.[1]



Early concepts[edit]

Confucianism in China[edit]

(Zhong)Often cited as one of the many virtues of Confucianism, meaning to do the best you can do for others.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica[edit]

The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition defines loyalty as “allegiance to the sovereign or established government of one’s country” and also “personal devotion and reverence to the sovereign and royal family”. It traces the word “loyalty” to the 15th century, noting that then it primarily referred to fidelity in service, in love, or to an oath that one has made. The meaning that the Britannica gives as primary, it attributes to a shift during the 16th century, noting that the origin of the word is in the Old French “loialte“, that is in turn rooted in the Latin “lex“, meaning “law“. One who is loyal, in the feudal sense of fealty, is one who is lawful (as opposed to an outlaw), who has full legal rights as a consequence of faithful allegiance to a feudal lord. Hence the 1911 Britannica derived its (early 20th century) primary meaning of loyalty to a monarch.[3] This definition of loyalty based upon the word’s etymology is echoed by Vandekerckhove, when he relates loyalty and whistleblowing (more on which below).[4]

Biblical and Christian views[edit]

In the Christian Bible, Jesus states “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” So, it acknowledges a limit to the authority of man. In the Christian view, there is a sphere beyond the earthly, and if loyalty to man conflicts with loyalty to God, the latter takes precedence.[5] Moreover, Christianity rejects the notion of dual loyalty. In the Gospel of Matthew 6:24, Jesus states “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”. This relates to the authority of a master over his servants (as per Ephesians 6:5), who according to (Biblical) law owe undivided loyalty to their master (as per Leviticus 25:44–46).[6]

Josiah Royce’s conception[edit]

Josiah Royce in his 1908 book The Philosophy of Loyalty presented a different definition of the concept. According to Royce, loyalty is a virtue, indeed a primary virtue, “the heart of all the virtues, the central duty amongst all the duties”. Royce presents loyalty, which he defines at length, as the basic moral principle from which all other principles can be derived.[7] The short definition that he gives of the idea is that loyalty is “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause”.[1][7][8] Loyalty is thoroughgoing in that it is not merely a casual interest but a wholehearted commitment to a cause.[9]

loyalty to loyalty


Main article: Misplaced loyalty

Misplaced loyalty (or mistaken loyalty) is loyalty placed in other persons or organisations where that loyalty is not acknowledged or respected, is betrayed, or is taken advantage of. It can also mean loyalty to a malignant or misguided cause.

Social psychology provides a partial explanation for the phenomenon in the way ‘the norm of social commitment directs us to honor our agreements….People usually stick to the deal even though it has changed for the worse’.[10] Humanists point out that ‘man inherits the capacity for loyalty, but not the use to which he shall put it…may unselfishly devote himself to what is petty or vile, as he may to what is generous and noble’.[11]

Concepts from the mid-20th century onwards[edit]

John Ladd challenges Royce’s view of loyalty, as does Andrew Oldenquist (professor of Philosophy at Ohio State University).[12] (Anthony Ralls observes that Ladd’s article is the MacmillanEncyclopaedia’s only article on a virtue, and praises it for its “magnificent” declaration by Ladd that “a loyal Nazi is a contradiction in terms”.[13]) Ladd asserts that, contrary to Royce, causes to which one is loyal are interpersonal, not impersonal or suprapersonal.[12] He states that Royce’s view has “the ethical defect of postulating duties over and above our individual duties to men and groups of men. The individual is submerged and lost in this superperson for its tends to dissolve our specific duties to others into ‘superhuman’ good.”. Ronald F. Duska, holder of the Charles Lamont Post Chair of Ethics and the Professions at The American College, extends Ladd’s objection, saying that it is a perversion of ethics and virtue for one’s self-will to be identified with anything, as Royce would have it. Even if one were identifying one’s self-will with God, to be worthy of such loyalty God would have to be the summum bonum, the perfect manifestation of good. Ladd himself characterizes loyalty as interpersonal, i.e. a relationship between persons, as between (for examples) a lord and a vassal, a parent and a child, or between two good friends. Duska states that doing so leads to a problem that Ladd overlooks. Loyalty may certainly be between two persons, but it may also be from a person to a group of people. Examples of this, which are unequivocally considered to be instances of loyalty, are loyalty by a person to his/her family, to a team that he/she is a member/fan of, or to his/her country. The problem with this that Duska identifies is that it then becomes unclear whether there is a strict interpersonal relationship involved, and whether Ladd’s contention that loyalty is interpersonal not suprapersonal is an adequate description.[14]

Ladd considers loyalty from two perspectives: its proper object and its moral value.[2] Further aspects, enumerated by Kleinig, include the exclusionary nature of loyalty and its subjects.[1]

The proper object of loyalty[edit]

Ladd and others, including Milton R. Konvitz and Marcia W. Baron (professor of Philosophy at Indiana University), disagree amongst themselves as to the proper object of loyalty — what it is possible to be loyal to, in other words. Ladd, as stated, considers loyalty to be interpersonal, and that the object of loyalty is always a person. Konvitz, writing in the Encyclopaedia of the History of Ideas, states that the objects of loyalty encompass principles, causes, ideas, ideals, religions, ideologies, nations, governments, parties, leaders, families, friends, regions, racial groups, and indeed “anyone or anything to which one’s heart can become attached or devoted”. Baron agrees with Ladd, inasmuch as loyalty is “to certain people or to a group of people, not loyalty to an ideal or cause”. She argues, in her monograph The Moral Status of Loyalty, that “[w]hen we speak of causes (or ideals) we are more apt to say that people are committed to them or devoted to them than that they are loyal to them”. Kleinig agrees with Baron, noting that a person’s earliest formed and psychologically strongest loyalties are almost always to people, and that it is only later on that people come to abstract the notions of values, causes, and ideals from such personal loyalties. He disagrees, however, with the notion that loyalties are restrictedsolely to personal attachments, considering it “incorrect (as a matter of logic)”.[15] Loyalty to people and abstract notions such as causes or ideals is considered an evolutionary tactic as there is a greater chance of survival and procreation if animals form loyal packs.[16]

Multiplicity, disloyalty, and whether loyalty is exclusionary[edit]

Stephen Nathanson, professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University, states that loyalty can be either exclusionary or non-exclusionary; and can be single or multiple. Exclusionary loyalty excludes loyalties to other people or groups; whereas non-exclusionary loyalty does not. People may have single loyalties, to just one person, group, or thing, or multiple loyalties to multiple objects. Multiple loyalties can constitute a disloyalty to an object if one of those loyalties is exclusionary, excluding one of the others. However, Nathanson observes, this is a special case. In the general case, the existence of multiple loyalties does not cause a disloyalty. One can, for example, be loyal to one’s friends, or one’s family, and still, without contradiction, be loyal to one’s religion, or profession.

Other dimensions[edit]

In addition to number as just outlined, Nathanson enumerates five other “dimensions” that loyalty can vary along: basis, strength, scope, legitimacy, and attitude.[17]

Loyalties differ in basis according to the foundation upon which they are constructed. Loyalties may be constructed upon the basis of unalterable facts that constitute a personal connection between the subject and the object of the loyalty, including loyalties based upon biological ties, or upon place of birth (a notion of natural allegiance propounded by Socrates in his political theory). Alternatively, at the opposite end of the spectrum, they may be constructed out of personal choice and evaluation of criteria with a full degree of freedom, unprejudiced by circumstances and facts over which one has no control. The degree of control that one has is not necessarily simple. Nathanson points out that whilst one has no choice as to one’s parents or relatives, one can choose to desert them.[17]

Loyalties differ in strength. They can range from supreme loyalties, that override all other considerations, to merely presumptive loyalties, that affect one’s presumptions, providing but one motivation for action that is weighed against other motivations. Nathanson observes that strength of loyalty is often interrelated with basis. “Blood is thicker than water.” states an aphorism, explaining that loyalties that have biological ties as their bases are generally stronger than loyalties that do not.[17]

Loyalties differ in scope. They range from loyalties with limited scope, that require few actions of the subject, to loyalties with broad or even unlimited scopes, which require many actions, or indeed to do whatever may be necessary in support of the loyalty. Loyalty to one’s job, for example, may require no more action than simple punctuality and performance of the tasks that the job requires. Loyalty to a family member can, in contrast, have a very broad effect upon one’s actions, requiring considerable personal sacrifice. Extreme patriotic loyalty (more on which below) may impose an unlimited scope of duties. Scope encompasses an element of constraint. Where two or more loyalties conflict, their scopes determine what weight to give to the alternative courses of action required by each loyalty.[17]

Loyalties differ in legitimacy. This is of particular relevance to the conflicts between multiple loyalties. People with one loyalty can hold that another, conflicting, loyalty is either legitimate or illegitimate. In the extreme view, one that Nathanson ascribes to religious extremists and xenophobes for examples, all loyalties bar one’s own are considered illegitimate. The xenophobe doesn’t regard the loyalties of people of other countries, to those countries, as legitimate. The religious extremist does not acknowledge the legitimacy of any other religion. At the other end of the spectrum, past the middle ground of considering some loyalties as legitimate and others not, according to cases, or plain and simple indifference to other people’s loyalties, is the positive regard of other people’s loyalties.[17]

Finally, loyalties differ in the attitude that the subjects of the loyalties have towards other people. (Note that this dimension of loyalty concerns the subjects of the loyalty, whereas legitimacy, above, concerns the loyalties themselves.) People may have one of a range of possible attitudes towards others who do not share their loyalties, with hate and disdain at one end, indifference in the middle, and concern and positive feeling at the other.[17]

In relation to other subjects[edit]


Main article: Patriotism

Nathanson observes that loyalty is often directly equated to patriotism. He states, that this is, however, not actually the case, arguing that whilst patriots exhibit loyalty, it is not conversely the case that all loyal persons are patriots. He provides the example of a mercenary soldier, who exhibits loyalty to the people/country that pays him. Nathanson points to the difference in motivations between a loyal mercenary and a patriot. A mercenary may well be motivated by a sense of professionalism, or a belief in the sanctity of contracts. A patriot, in contrast, may be motivated by affection, concern, identification, and a willingness to sacrifice.[17]

Nathanson contends that patriotic loyalty is not always a virtue. A loyal person can, in general be relied upon, and hence people view loyalty as virtuous. Nathanson argues that loyalty can, however, be given to persons or causes that are unworthy. Moreover, loyalty can lead patriots to support policies that are immoral and inhumane. Thus, Nathanson argues, patriotic loyalty can sometimes rather be a vice than a virtue, when its consequences exceed the boundaries of what is otherwise morally desirable. Such loyalties, in Nathanson’s view, are erroneouslyunlimited in their scopes, and fail to acknowledge boundaries of morality.[17]


Main article: Whistleblowing

Several scholars, including Duska, discuss loyalty in the context of whistleblowing. Wim Vandekerckhove, senior lecturer at the University of Greenwich, points out that in the late 20th century there sprung forth the notion of a bidirectional loyalty between employees and their employer. (Previous thinking had encompassed the idea that employees are loyal to an employer, but not that an employer need be loyal to employees.) The ethics of whistleblowing thus encompass a conflicting multiplicity of loyalties, where the traditional loyalty of the employee to the employer conflicts with the loyalty of the employee to his/her community, which the employer’s business practices may be adversely affecting. Vandekerckhove reports that different scholars resolve the conflict in different ways, some of which he, himself, does not find to be satisfactory. Duska resolves the conflict by asserting that there is really only one proper object of loyalty in such instances, the community, a position that Vandekerckhove counters by arguing that businesses are in need of employee loyalty. John Corvino, associate professor of Philosophy at Wayne State University takes a different tack, arguing along lines similar to Nathanson and others that loyalty can sometimes be a vice not a virtue and that “loyalty is only a virtue to the extent that the object of loyalty is good”. This argument Vandekerckhove characterizes as “interesting” but “too vague” in its description of how tolerant an employee should be of an employer’s shortcomings. Vandekerckhove suggests that Duska and Corvino combine, however, to point in a direction that makes it possible to resolve the conflict of loyalties in the context of whistleblowing, by clarifying exactly what the objects of those loyalties really are.[4]


Businesses seek to become the objects of loyalty, in order to have their customers return. Brand loyalty is a consumer’s preference for a particular brand and a commitment to repeatedly purchase that brand in the face of other choices.[18] Other businesses establish loyalty programs, which offer rewards to repeat customers, and often allow the business to keep track of their preferences and buying habits.[19]

Fan loyalty is similar: an allegiance to and abiding interest in a sports teamfictional character, or fictional series. Devoted fans of a sports team will continue to follow it, relatively undaunted by a string of losing seasons.[20]

In Quran[edit]

” Say. Surely my prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds;” Alanam 6-162, “Allah puts forth a Parable a man belonging to many partners at variance with each other, and a man belonging entirely to one master: are those two equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah! but most of them have no knowledge” Zumur 39-29.

In the Bible[edit]

Attempting to serve two masters leads to “double-mindedness” (James 4:8), undermining loyalty to a cause. The Bible also speaks of loyal ones, which would be those who follow the Bible with absolute loyalty, as in “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his loyal ones”, (Psalms 116:15) Most Jewish and Christian authors view the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), in whichAbraham was called by God to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, as a test of Abraham’s loyalty to God.[21] Joseph‘s faithfulness to his master Potiphar and his rejection of Potiphar’s wife’s advances (Genesis 39) have also been called an example of the virtue of loyalty.[22]

Foxie, guarding the body of her master Charles Gough, in Attachment byEdwin Landseer, 1829

In animals[edit]

Animals as pets have a large sense of loyalty to humans which may be more human-to-human loyalty. Famous cases include Greyfriars Bobby who attended his master’s grave for fourteen years; Hachiko, who returned to the place he used to meet his master every day for nine years after his death;[23] and Foxie, thespaniel belonging to Charles Gough, who stayed by her dead master’s side for three months on Helvellyn in the Lake District in 1805 (the fact that Gough’s body was eaten by his dog was ignored in subsequent Romantic accounts of the story).[24]

In the Mahabharata, the righteous King Yudhisthira, at the end of his life, appeared at the gates of Heaven. He had previously lost his brothers and his wife to death, and when he appeared at the gates his only remaining companion was a stray dog he had picked up along the way. The god Indra is prepared to admit him to Heaven, but refuses to admit the dog. Yudhistira refuses to abandon the dog, and prepares to turn away from the gates of Heaven. Then the dog is revealed to be the manifestation of Dharma, the god of righteousness and justice, and who turned out to be his deified self. Yudhistira enters heaven in the company of his dog, the god of righteousness.[25][26] Yudhistira is known by the epithet Dharmaputra, the lord of righteous duty.


  1. Jump up to:a b c d Kleinig, John (2007-08-21). “Loyalty”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. Jump up to:a b Ladd, John (1967). “Loyalty”. In Paul Edwards. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 5. Macmillan. p. 97.
  3. Jump up^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in thepublic domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Loyalty“. Encyclopædia Britannica 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 80.
  4. Jump up to:a b Vandekerckhove, Wim (2006). Whistleblowing and organizational social responsibility: a global assessment. Corporate social responsibility series. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 127 et seq. ISBN 0-7546-4750-1.
  5. Jump up^ Sharma, Urmila; Sharma, S.K. (1998). “Christian political thought”. Western Political Thought. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. pp. 220 et seq. ISBN 81-7156-683-9.
  6. Jump up^ White, Edward J. (2000). The Law in the Scriptures: With Explanations of the Law Terms and Legal References in Both the Old and the New Testaments. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 295. ISBN 1-58477-076-7.
  7. Jump up to:a b Thilly, Frank (1908). “Review of The Philosophy of Loyalty“. Philosophical Review 17.
    reprinted as Thilly, Frank (2000). “Review of The Philosophy of Loyalty“. In Randall E. Auxier.Critical responses to Josiah Royce, 1885–1916. History of American Thought 1. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1-85506-833-8.
  8. Jump up^ Martin, Mike W. (1994). Virtuous giving: philanthropy, voluntary service, and caring. Indiana University Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-253-33677-5.
  9. Jump up^ Mullin, Richard P. (2005). “Josiah Royce’s Philosophy of Loyalty as the Basis for Democratic Ethics”. In Leszek Koczanowicz and Beth J. Singer. Democracy and the post-totalitarian experience. Value inquiry book series: Studies in pragmatism and values 167. Rodopi. pp. 183–184. ISBN 90-420-1635-3.
  10. Jump up^ E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (2007) p. 390
  11. Jump up^ Arthur James Balfour, Theism and Humanism (2000) p. 65
  12. Jump up to:a b Baron, Marcia (1984). The moral status of loyalty. CSEP module series in applied ethics. Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co. ISBN 0-8403-3423-0.
  13. Jump up^ Ralls, Anthony (January 1968). “Review of The Encyclopedia of PhilosophyThe Philosophical Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing) 18 (70): 77–79. doi:10.2307/2218041.
  14. Jump up^ Duska, Ronald F. (2007). “Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty”. Contemporary reflections on business ethics 23. Springer. p. 142. ISBN 1-4020-4983-8.
  15. Jump up^ Kleinig, John (1996). The ethics of policing. Cambridge studies in philosophy and public policy. Cambridge University Press. p. 291. ISBN 0-521-48433-2.
  16. Jump up^ “The Power of Tribes in Evolution”Guide Bites. 1 December 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  17. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Nathanson, Stephen (1993). Patriotism, morality, and peace. New Feminist Perspective Series. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 106–109. ISBN 0-8476-7800-8.
  18. Jump up^ Dick, Alan S. and Kunal Basu (1994), “Customer Loyalty: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 22 (2), 99-113.
  19. Jump up^ Sharp, Byron and Anne Sharp (1997), “Loyalty Programs and Their Impact on Repeat-Purchase Loyalty Patterns”, International Journal of Research in Marketing, 14 (5), 473-86.
  20. Jump up^ Mark Conrad (2006). “What Makes Sports a Unique Business?”. The Business of Sports: A Primer for Journalists. Routledge. xxx–xxxi. ISBN 0-8058-5044-9.
  21. Jump up^ Berman, Louis A., The Akedah: The Binding of Isaac. (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997; ISBN 1-56821-899-0.)
  22. Jump up^ William J. BennettThe Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (Simon & Schuster, 1995; ISBN 0-684-83577-0), p. 665
  23. Jump up^ Katharine Rogers, First Friend
  24. Jump up^ Jones, Jonathan (15 March 2003). “The Romantics and the myth of Charles Gough”The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  25. Jump up^ Mahabharatabook 17, ch. 3
  26. Jump up^ Bennett, supra, pp. 684-685

Further reading[edit]

  • Alford, C. Fred (2002). “Implications of Whistleblower Ethics for Ethical Theory”. Whistleblowers: Broken lives and organizational power. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8780-3.
  • Axinn, Sydney (1997). “Loyalty”. In P. H. Werhane and R. E. Freeman. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. pp. 388–390.
  • Connor, James (2007-07-25). The Sociology of Loyalty (1st ed.). Springer. ISBN 0-387-71367-0.
  • Corvino, John (November 2002). “Loyalty in Business?”. Journal of Business Ethics (Springer Netherlands) 41 (1–2): 179–185. doi:10.1023/A:1021370727220ISSN 0167-4544.
  • Ewin, R. E. (October 1992). “Loyalty and Virtues”The Philosophical Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing) 42 (169): 403–419. doi:10.2307/2220283.
  • Jung, Kim Dae (June 1999). Loyalty, Filial Piety in Changing Times.
  • Konvitz, Milton R. (1973). “Loyalty”. In Philip P. Wiener. Encyclopedia of the History of Ideas III. New York: Scribner’s. p. 108.
  • Mullin, Richard P. “Josiah Royce’s Philosophy of Loyalty as the Basis for Ethics”. The soul of classical American philosophy: the ethical and spiritual insights of William James, Josiah Royce, and Charles Sanders Peirce. SUNY Press. p. 2007. ISBN 0-7914-7109-8.
  • Nitobe, Inazō (1975). “The Duty of Loyalty”. In Charles Lucas. Bushido: the warrior’s code. History and Philosophy Series 303. Black Belt Communications. ISBN 0-89750-031-8.
  • Royce, Josiah (1908). The Philosophy of Loyalty. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Sorley, W. R. (1908). “Review of The Philosophy of Loyalty“. Hibbert journal 7.
    reprinted as W. R. Sorley (2000). “Review of The Philosophy of Loyalty“. In Randall E. Auxier. Critical responses to Josiah Royce, 1885–1916. History of american thought 1. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1-85506-833-8.
  • White, Howard B. (1956). “Royce’s Philosophy of Loyalty”The Journal of Philosophy (Journal of Philosophy, Inc.) 53 (3): 99–103.

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