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.
The strong feelings and devotion often associated with loyalty have led some to assert that loyalty is only or primarily a feeling or sentiment—an affective bondedness that may express itself in deeds, the latter more as an epiphenomenon than as its core.
As Ewin puts it, it is an “instinct to sociability” (Ewin, 1990, 4; cf. But feelings of loyalty are probably not constitutive of loyalty, even if it is unusual to find loyalty that is affectless.
For the most part, an association that we come to value for its own sake is also one with which we come to identify (as ).
The nature of loyal attachment is a matter of debate.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.This is implicit in the working definition’s reference to “intrinsically valued associational attachments.” Intrinsically valued associational attachments are usually those to which we have developed a form of social identification.We have come to value the associational bond for its own sake (whatever may have originally motivated it).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).Nor would it impugn what loyalty has come to be that it began as a survival mechanism (presuming an adaptive account to be correct).Although we often speak of loyalty as though it were a relatively free-floating practical disposition—which it occasionally is—it is more common to associate loyalty with certain natural or conventional groupings. That is, it is not just a general affiliational attachment, but one that is tied to certain kinds of natural or conventional associations, such as friendships, families, organizations, professions, countries, and religions. Associations that evoke and exact our loyalty tend to be those with which we have become deeply involved or .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.