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Monday, December 13, 2004 - 3:22pmSanction this postReply
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I recently saw the movie Sideways, which touches on (among other issues) the concept of sexual fidelity in romantic relationships.  Needless to say, it got me thinking about this topic.

I would like to pose a hypothetical scenario about an affair, and then open it up to analysis and discussion regarding the morality of the players invovled:

Dick and Jane are in a monogamous romantic relationship, where they have promised not to have sex with anyone else.  Jane, while on a business trip out of town, meets Fred (a single man) at a hotel bar.  Fred and Jane are attracted to one another, and end up having a one night stand later that night. Fred was aware from the start that Jane was not single. 

I think we'd all agree that Jane's actions are immoral.  She has initiated fraud against a romantic lover, and betrayed his trust.  If she wished to have sex with other people, she should have either re-negotiated the terms of their relationship - or, if Dick refused - she should have terminated her relationship with him.  That much is cut and dry to me.

Objectively speaking, though, what is to be said of the morality of Fred's actions?  As I see it, there are three possible interpretations:

1.  Fred was aware of Jane's other relationship, and was thus knowingly contributing to her corruption.  Fred's actions are therefore as equally immoral as Jane's.

2. Fred was contributing to Jane's corruption, but since he was not directly initiating fraud or violating someone's trust, his actions are immoral, but less so than Jane's.

3.  In a casual sex encounter, it is understood that both parties are operating out of their own volition, and that people are mainly trading physical and erotic values.  Jane's morality outside of her dealings with Fred is thus not important.  Fred's has not behaved immorally.

Personally, I think number two describes how I feel about this, but I would like to hear arguments for one or three if others feel differently.  Perhaps I'm even overlooking a fourth interpretation which is more accurate.  Let's hear from you SOLO!




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Post 1

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 1:15amSanction this postReply
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My question is, why should Fred pretend that Jane's relationship with Dick is meaningful and important if she's not willing to?  The thought that an outsider should care more about a relationship than the participants never made sense to me.  If Jane's willing to cheat, Fred should think nothing more of her relationship with Dick, except maybe that he might want her to formally end it.

(Edited by Joseph Rowlands on 12/14, 1:36am)




Post 2

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 5:52amSanction this postReply
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Good point Joseph.

This question resides in a vacuum and in reality would not. It wasn't mentioned that Dick was a beer guzzling redneck that never takes a shower or cleans up after himself. Isn't it possible that Dick may have voided the marriage contract before this incident took place by changing who he was since the wedding?

This thought also applies to Jane's past. Either way something changed because people don't just do things like this without having lost interest in their partner. Have you ever seen partners that were head over heals in love? Would THEY cheat on each other (at that time of their relationship)? Most likely not. Something since then has changed.

Is it immoral to do what Jane did? Not if she was acting in her own self interest. I won't condemn her because of the act. Heck I won't condemn her at all because only she (and Dick) really know what the deal is. Its not my job.

Unless I were Fred. Then I would judge her actions. Would I choose to be with this person? Is it in my best self interest? It depends on what I want. Do I just want to get her into bed for some simple pleasure (what I like to call the short-term-lease) or get into a serious relationship? It really depends on Fred (me) at that time. Is it immoral for him to do anything with Jane? What moral law has he or would he break? He didn't sign any marriage license. It takes two to tango as they say. He is doing nothing wrong.

Regards,

Jeremy Nelson



Post 3

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 7:26amSanction this postReply
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Well, I agree most closely with scenario 2, but it begs the question if Fred is responsible for Jane's actions. I don't think he is. This is a sort of difficult question. How would you feel if you were Dick? He would certianly be hurt. Should they have waited for a formal break up? I'd say yes. Love can be cultural specific, and Fred and Jane also didn't really help themselves in this situation either; they can lie about it and become slaves to their own lies, or tell Dick and others, and potentially end or hurt other relationships.




Post 4

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 10:26amSanction this postReply
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Here's my take.

1. If Frank has induced Jane to renegotiate a contract, then that much is fine. Frank ought to pursue a good deal when he sees it.

2. If Frank has induced Jane to breach the contract, then he is an abetter, and that's not fine, for one ought not encourage through words the immoral acts of others, even if it is for one's immediate personal gain.

3. And if Frank helps Jane breach the contract, then he is an aider, which is also not fine, for this is akin to one encouraging through one's actions the immoral acts of others.

Jordan




Post 5

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 8:31amSanction this postReply
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Interesting schenario.  I think they are equally bad in a moral sense.  Dick's actions are harmful to 1) a morally functional society 2) Jane and 3) himself.  I'll leave #1 to the Republicans in the house.  For #2, Jane could not be immoral without Dick's active choice to aid in that immorality.  She is 'bad' for having the affair and also for chosing a knowing participant, but the reason he is equally bad is that he is a knowing participant.  If Jane had chosen an unknowing participant, that particpant would be less immoral than her.  But since Dick knew, he is equally bad.   Jane set the bait, but Dick is just as guilty because he chose to take it. 

Actually maybe Dick is even more immoral than Jane.  What is the purpose of morality?  From an Objectivist standpoint it could be argued that morals serve the individual's best interest.  If you are Jane's husband you will be better off in a society where a strong moral system tells Jane that it is really bad to cheat, for example (we need to assume that most monogamous marriages aren't as fucked up as Jane's + hubby---most people who get married  cherish the value in a long term monogamous relationship). 

Dick may be more immoral that Jane because he is contributing to the joint immoral activity, and further, he is putting himself and his 'well-being' in danger.  By this I mean, Jane's angry husband who will seek vengence against Dick (if we assume that most husbands wouldn't act like the husband in Sideways--great movie by the way).  Dick would be asking for a beating or worse (does he live in a conceiled weapon state?) since he knowingly participated in the affair.

So I guess I say that Dick is more immoral than Jane.




Post 6

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 10:47amSanction this postReply
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Oops.  I meant Fred, not Dick.



Post 7

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 2:17pmSanction this postReply
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I'll throw this comment into the mix.  If we are going to say that romantic relationships are analogous to contracts, it might be interesting to note that common law has long recognized wrongful interference with a contractual relationship as a tort.

The wrong rests in the deliberate disruption by a third party of a valid obligation a person has to another.  I think that an Objectivist can recognize that Fred is in the wrong, because he has violated the sanctity of the trader principle.

The fact that Jane does not value what she is receiving from her "contract" with Dick does not give Fred freedom to interfere with that contract.  It is not his to disrupt.  He is taking what is not his to receive, which no honest trader would do regardless of how willing Jane is.

R. Pukszta




Post 8

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 6:23pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for everybody's input thus far.  I guess I should have clarified initially that I was referring to cheaters of the 'have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too' variety.  There are people who enter into relationships and marriages knowing full well deep down that they will not honor any monogamous pledge.  They want the benefits of a long term, committed relationship, but they also want to have the thrill of a relationship based purely on sex.  Through deception, they can have both provided they don't get caught.  This is the general mindset and context that I envisioned for Jane in my hypothetical scenario, and so any moral evaluations of Jane should be done with this is in mind.

With that said, there are certainly other contexts in which infidelity might take place, and those have been hinted at in this thread.  One such example would be someone who has gradually fallen out of love with their partner, but through evading that fact along the way, they have slipped into a predicament where they are "stuck" in an entrenched relationship with them.  Having kids and/or shared finances creates favorable conditions for such situations to happen. 

In this case, the disgruntled lover meets someone new who excites them or interests them more, and ends up falling in love with them and/or pursuing another serious relationship.  Such a relationship can never be immoral in and of itself - as it's not immoral to fall in love with someone.  It's how the third party is dealt with that matters. 




Post 9

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 7:34pmSanction this postReply
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I agree with R. Putszka. Well said. I with of thought of what you said.




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Post 10

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 8:13pmSanction this postReply
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This all sounds a bit Stolyarovian.  A relationship is not a contract.  You can't throw people in jail for dumping you, as much as some people might like.  A promise is not the same as a contract.  If there was an actual contract signed, then there would be a cost stipulated for Jane violating the fidelity part of the contract, in which case she'd have to pay.

And even if it was a contract, it would be Jane who is deciding to violate the contract.  Fred has no responsibilities to Dick, and is not forcing Jane to violate the contract.  She's making the choice.  His only concerns should be whether he wants to be with someone who cheats before breaking up, or whether she'll actually break up in the end.  He's not preventing her from fulfilling a contract.  She is.

Yeah, the husband might blame Fred, and if he's particularly irrational, might become violent.  He might do that even if she broke up first.  The fact is that some people still think women have no minds of their own, and they're easily manipulated/seduced by other men.  It doesn't help that some women are exactly like that.  But it is the girls that are ultimately responsible for their actions.  Dick might not want to be friends with Fred (although they have common interests), but blaming Fred can only be done by pretending Jane is non-volitional.

It was Jane's action that hurt the relationship.  It was Jane that violated Dick's trust.  It was Jane that had the obligation to not sleep with anyone.  Blaming it on Fred is just trying to remove Jane from moral responsibility.





Post 11

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 8:25pmSanction this postReply
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I agree with Joe.   Jane is the only party capable of "interfering" with a "contract". 



Post 12

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 8:42pmSanction this postReply
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Truthfan writes:

If Jane had chosen an unknowing participant, that particpant would be less immoral than her.  But since (Fred) knew, he is equally bad. 
Why would Fred necessarilly be immoral (even if only less so) if he wasn't aware that she was 'taken'?  By what standard are you making that determination?




Post 13

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 8:46pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, I agree that Jane must not be thought of as a person with no volition, unable to make a choice for herself.

 

I would say that a relationship is not a contract in a formal sense of a written-out document. Of course, the example above is vague, and to draw out specific arguments from the example would difficult because of lack of detail. But most relationships are implied contracts in the sense that it shouldn’t be broken by having relations with others - hence the name "cheating."

 
I think if I were Dick, I'd probably be equally disappointed in both persons - because it takes two to tango. I would be upset at Fred because he was a willing participant in the destruction of me and Jane's relationship, and for Jane, for the same reason plus I was already in a relationship with her that was intended to monogamous.




Post 14

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 5:58amSanction this postReply
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Rowlands,

You are correct.  Romantic relationships are not business contracts.  We were fleshing out the discussion by using contracts as an analogy.  I am sure no one here is proposing incarceration for infidelity.

However, a romantic relationship can, and usually does, entail moral obligations.  The most common obligation people in a romantic relationship agree to is exclusivity.  Lovers pledge themselves to each other and no others.  This is a reasonable and normal component of a romantic relationship.  In fact, I would say it is the foundation of any healthy relationship.  (Although - I would hope this could be assumed in an Objectivist forum, but I'll say it anyway - people are free to form any bond, traditional or weird, they want.)  This makes infidelity a primal breach of trust.

So what is to be done about Jane's infidelity?  Dick certainly has a grievance against her, one that is serious enough for him to end the relationship.  That is his remedy against Jane.  Dick has no remedy against Fred, but he can correctly judge him to be a scoundrel.  Any outsiders who become aware of the facts can also reasonably form judgments that Fred and Jane are untrustworthy individuals and take that into account in any future dealings with him - romantic or otherwise.

In short, we can objectively form negative judgments about Jane and Fred because of their actions.  If Jane and Fred had cared about their reputations, Jane might have refrained from infidelity and Fred might have decided against opportunistic "poaching".  But they didn't, so they risk the adverse judgment of people they might have to deal with in the future.  That would be the just consequences of their actions as put forth in this little thought experiment.

Pukszta




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Post 15

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 6:34amSanction this postReply
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If Jane and Fred had cared about their reputations, Jane might have refrained from infidelity and Fred might have decided against opportunistic "poaching". 
I agree about Jane, although she may have good reasons for doing it...context is complicated.  But what about Fred?  This whole view of opportunistic "poaching" needs justification. As far as I can see, Fred has no reason to respect the relationship, especially if Jane doesn't.  It sounds a lot like trying to say that Jane is the property of Dick, and Fred is somehow violating Dick's right to her.  But Jane is a free woman.  She should break up with Dick first, but that's not really Fred's concern, except to the extent that he wants her to be monogomous with him.

So can this condemnation of Fred be justified without pretending Jane is some kind of non-volitional property?

And if Jane does call up Dick before doing anything with Fred, does the condemnation go away?




Post 16

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 11:24amSanction this postReply
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Rowlands,

 

You’re right that Jane could have mitigating reasons for her infidelity.  Dick could be a bastard and her infidelity is payback calculated to end the relationship with cuckoldry.  Not the most noble of reasons, but understandable.  More to your point, is Jane still be condemned if she advises Dick before getting into the sack with Fred?  I’d say no, because she has either ended the relationship or at the least changed the terms, which Dick is free to reject by breaking off the relationship.

 

As for condemning Fred, it doesn’t require viewing Jane as anything other than what you say she is – a free woman capable of making her own choices.  I think the question turns on whether we can make an objective assessment of Fred because of his lack of respect for the relationships of others.  Romantic relationships are among the most important and certainly the most intimate bonds people can form.  A person who willingly promotes the destruction of that bond between two others lacks the virtue of benevolence.  Maybe the virtue of integrity too.  These are things, if I had knowledge of them, I would take into consideration before making a decision to deal with Fred.

 

Pukszta

 

P.S.  I know a thing or two about philosophy, but I have to admit that the Stolarovians are a new one on me.  Let me guess.  Are they anarcho-capitalists who reduce everything to a business transaction?




Post 17

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 12:09pmSanction this postReply
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To Pete:  Calling Fred theoretically 'less immoral' than Jane had he NOT been cognicient of Dick was loose wording on my part.  His morality in that not-knowing context would not be an issue, he would be acting morally, if you will.  I slipped in projecting my personal values onto him, making several assumptions along the way based on certain stereotypes. 




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Post 18

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 1:19pmSanction this postReply
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Rooster,

As I said before, I don't see why Fred should take Jane's relationship seriously if she doesn't.

Let me put it another way.  You want to blame Fred for destroying Jane's relationship.  But isn't her relationship already broken if she's willing to have an affair?  The sex isn't the thing that broke the relationship, it was the result of the broken relationship.  The fact that the two participants still gave lip service to the relationship doesn't make it so.

If Fred was to be blamed when Jane hadn't officially ended it, why not when she has officially ended it?  It sounds like either there's a double standard, or you really do think the act of sex is what broke the relationship in the first place.

As for integrity and benevolence, those are a little problematic.  Integrity would be a concern only if Fred thought what he was doing was immoral.  Benevolence you're welcome to try to argue in more detail.  My take on it is that if Fred refrained from becoming romantically involved with Jane, he's acting in a sacrificial way.  It's kind of a "first come first serve" mentality that believes Dick has a right to her or something.  So what if he refrained?  Is he doing himself a favor?  How about Jane?  Is he being benevolent towards the woman he loves (assuming Fred loves her) by leaving her with another guy just because the other guy got there first?  She's obviously not very happy with that relationship, why should Fred want her to stay in it?  Would he be acting for her sake, or for Dick's sake?

And finally, is he being benevolent towards Dick?  That's a huge leap of faith.  It possibly means that Dick's illusion of a happy relationship is worth sacrificing for.  Even if Dick prefers staying in a loveless relationship, is it benevolence to just give someone what they want, even if you don't think it's really good for them?  And of course, there's the question of whether it's really nice to let Dick continue a relationship with a partner that doesn't care about him.

On the side note, Stolyarov was a guy who used to post on this forum.  Je has some article up still if you want to see them...and a few in the dissenting opinions board.   He believed a couple needed to be forced together by the state or they'd break up over the smallest of issues.  In other words, he wanted the government to force a woman to stay with him.  You can imagine what kind of motivations and insecurities would lead to that.  He also believed children had a right to married parents, so you shouldn't be allowed to divorce if you had kids.




Post 19

Thursday, December 16, 2004 - 7:13amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Would you agree that we shouldn't encourage the immoral acts of others? (It's hard for me to see why that'd be a bad principle.) It doesn't matter whether Jane's a big girl who can take care of herself. The fact is, she's doing a shitty thing (i.e., being dishonest or defrauding Dick). By screwing around with Jane, Fred would be encouraging Jane in her dishonesty and fraud. I would advise Fred against doing this, not because I'd otherwise blame Fred for destroying Dick's and Jane's relationship, not because Jane is a weak little woman who needs a man's guidance, and not out of some benevolence for Dick, but because it'd otherwise be a crappy principle to live by. 

Jordan




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