|Michael, a fine question. I'm glad that you have moved the question from the particular to the general. Here are my thoughts...and you can apply what I say here to the discussion still raging over at "The Passion of Barbara Branden" thread.|
Starting at the beginning, the first question I would ask is this:
Why the concern about and focus upon "moral perfection"?
In asking that question I am NOT seeking some sort of moral blank check; I am NOT saying moral principles aren't vitally important; I am NOT saying that adhering to moral principles is metaphysically impossible; I am NOT endorsing subjectivism or relativism. No doubt some of my critics would love to interpret me as meaning such things. But I emphatically do not. I reject ALL of those positions, and, additionally, regard them as totally contrary to Objectivism.
Rather, I am simply asking a question about one's primary FOCUS in life. Should one's focus primarily be internally directed -- on: "Am I doing the right thing?" -- or should it be externally directed: "What in the world do I want, and how can I get it?" Put another way: Should your focus be virtue-centered, or value-centered?
Those caught up in the former worldview very much need to read -- about three times, without pause -- Rand's seminal article, "Causality Vs. Duty," which I believe is anthologized in Philosophy: Who Needs It. That essay had a profound impact on my thinking way back when I was a twenty-something Objectivist. I am absolutely on Rand's side on this issue.
Somebody -- I think Shayne -- asked in another thread if I had penned any treatise on my view of ethics. I said no, because I've written so many things that I forgot: in fact, I have. Not a book-length treatise, but certainly an extended essay. It's titled, "The Value-Seeking Personality," and it's available for purchase as an audio recording (click the link to learn more). It's is my own personal elaboration and extension of "Causality Vs. Duty," and I've gotten more enthusiastic feedback for that essay/lecture than for anything else I've ever prepared for an Objectivist audience.
I invite critics from other threads to listen to that lecture, then try to square it with their various imaginative interpretations and conjectures about my alleged intrinsicism, Catholic hangovers, "conventional" ethics, etc. (They won't bother -- but it would be amusing if they tried.)
In the context of the extremely NON-intrinsicist, NON-duty-bound, NON-"Catholic" ethical perspective put forth in that essay, here's how I would apply it to romantic relationships:
1. You owe it to yourself and to your romantic partner(s) to make clear your attitudes about all relevant matters, such as sexual exclusivity, before getting seriously involved, and certainly before getting married.
2. If sexual exclusivity is understood to be a premise of your relationship, you have then voluntarily assumed a moral obligation to keep that commitment. You do NOT have the moral entitlement to renege on "the deal" and conduct surreptitious extramarital affairs: that would constitute a fraud on your partner -- gaining the values of their continued involvement with you under false pretenses.
3. If you are in what both partners understand to be a monogamous relationship, but despite your best intentions, you find yourself falling in love with someone else, that is NOT a moral failing on your part. However, you DO have a moral responsibility to your partner (a) to decide whether you wish to remain in your relationship, and if not, a moral responsibility (b) to tell your partner what has happened, and why, before you leave or decide if/how to proceed. (I dub this "The Lovin' Spoonful Principle," after those seminal moral philosophers of the same name, said principle being derived from their song, "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?") There is nothing necessarily immoral about leaving a relationship or marriage, or in staying in one that's less than ideal. But if your relationship is premised on monogamy, you will have to make up your mind.
4. Knowing that your partner is likely to be emotionally shocked, hurt and confused by this unexpected turn of events, and terribly fearful of the loss of the relationship, then -- if you truly love that person and thus care about her future well-being and best interests -- you have a moral responsibility NOT to use that time of vulnerability and confusion to "change the deal" (the terms of your original understanding) by manipulating her acquiescence to some extramarital arrangement that she would never condone in a normal frame of mind. Under such circumstances, that would constitute emotional manipulation and extortion.
5. If, after giving your partner some reasonable time to absorb the new situation, you still hanker for an "open marriage" or some such arrangement, you need to keep several things in mind. Understand that you are asking your partner to settle for something he may regard as far less satisfactory than he originally sought, yet to remain with you anyway rather than seek more complete fulfillment elsewhere. Knowing your partner's nature and needs, ask yourself if you are asking too much -- if you are really asking him or her to commit an act of self-sacrifice for your benefit. One way to determine this is to imagine that the roles were reversed: Ask yourself if YOU would accept such an arrangement, or would instead regard it as a request for your own self-sacrifice.
If you would TRULY be "okay" with it, and if you TRULY believe your partner would, too, then -- after a decent interval of time for your partner to process the situation -- you might go ahead and ask for a new arrangement. If "no" on either count, however...well, then "The Lovin' Spoonful Principle" applies. Make up your mind and choose which relationship you want.
6. If you regard any of the preceding "rules" to be an improper imposition on your freedom or desires, I would say two things: First, you have been lying to yourself about "loving" your partner, since you clearly don't care about his or her best interests. Second, your moral philosophy is not Objectivism, but self-indulgent subjectivism.
If anyone wishes to label these considerations "intrinsicism," "conventionalism," "Catholicism," etc., be my guest. I call it "self-responsibility."
Finally, on a personal note, let no one smugly suggest that I am pontificating about situations and circumstances of which I have no personal knowledge or experience, and am thus in no position to pass informed judgments. Those who know me well, know better. And they also know that I practiced exactly what I am preaching.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 2/15, 8:11am)