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But it is not clear what any such explanatory account shows.What “loyalty” may have begun as (defense of the group against threat) and what it has come to be for reflective beings need not be the same.To characterize it they tended to use the language of (un)faithfulness, though nowadays we might be inclined to use the more restricted language of (in)fidelity, which has regard to specific commitments.
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.
That had an interesting offshoot as monarchical feudalism lost sway: loyal subjects who were torn by the venality of sitting sovereigns found it necessary—as part of their effort to avoid charges of treason—to distinguish their ongoing loyalty to the institution of kingship from their loyalty to a particular king.
As a working definition, loyalty can be characterized as a practical disposition to persist in an intrinsically valued (though not necessarily valuable) associational attachment, where that involves a potentially costly commitment to secure or at least not to jeopardize the interests or well-being of the object of loyalty.
Loyalty is usually seen as a virtue, albeit a problematic one.
It is constituted centrally by perseverance in an association to which a person has become intrinsically committed as a matter of his or her identity.
Arguably, the test of loyalty is conduct rather than intensity of feeling, primarily a certain “stickingness” or perseverance—the loyal person acts for or stays with or remains committed to the object of loyalty even when it is likely to be disadvantageous or costly to the loyal person to do so.
Those who focus on loyalty as a sentiment often intend to deny that loyalty might be rationally motivated.
Its paradigmatic expression is found in close friendship, to which loyalty is integral, but many other relationships and associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or membership: families expect it, organizations often demand it, and countries do what they can to foster it.
May one also have loyalty to principles or other abstractions? Two key issues in the discussion of loyalty concern its status as a virtue and, if that status is granted, the limits to which loyalty ought to be subject.