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Love's Constancy

  • Mike W. Martin (a1)


‘Marital faithfulness’ refers to faithful love for a spouse or lover to whom one is committed, rather than the narrower idea of sexual fidelity. The distinction is clearly marked in traditional wedding vows. A commitment to love faithfully is central: ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part… and thereto I plight [pledge] thee my troth [faithfulness]’. Sexual fidelity is promised in a subordinate clause, symbolizing its supportive role in promoting love's constancy: ‘and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her/him.’



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1 Church of England Prayer Book (1549). I will understand marriage as a moral relationship centred on lifelong commitments to love and significantly involving sexual desire at some time during the relationship, whether or not the marriage is formalized in legal or religious ceremonies, recognizing homo sexual as well as heterosexual marriages, and independently of government intrusions. On the latter see Palmer, David, ‘The Consolation of the Wedded’, in Philosophy and Sex, 2nd edn, Baker, Robert and Elliston, Frederick (eds) (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984), 119129.

2 Or its presumed supportive role. Some couples, of course, enter into (or transform their relationship into) ‘open marriages’ in which they permit extramarital affairs while retaining lifetime commitments. For an early and especially interesting example, see Nicolson's, Nigel portrayal of his parents in Portrait of a Marriage (New York: Atheneum, 1973). Two illuminating (and contrasting) discussions of the rationale for traditional links between lifetime marital commitments and sexual fidelity are: Leites, Edmund, The Puritan Conscience and Modern Sexuality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), and Scruton, Roger, Sexual Desire (New York: Free Press, 1986).

3 Singer, Irving develops the idea of love as a special way of valuing persons in his masterful three-volume study, The Nature of Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1987). Whereas I understand (‘true’) love as permeated by the virtues, Singer separates morality and love, as a result of his constricted view of morality as demanding impartiality (by contrast with love's preference for one individual). See especially p. 11 of vol. I.

4 Tolstoy, Leo, Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise, and Maude, Aylmer (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 361362. Also see Gilbert's, Paul discussion in Human Relationships (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 9ff.

5 Wilson, John, ‘Can One Promise to Love Another?Philosophy 64 (1989), 560. Also see Sankowski, Edward, ‘Responsibility of Persons for Their Emotions’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 12 (1977), 829840.

6 Oksenberg Rorty, Amélie argues that the core of some emotions is a pattern of attention rather than the more common beliefs and attitudes in ‘Explaining Emotions’, in Explaining Emotions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 103126.

7 Cf. Seligman, Martin E. P., Learned Optimism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).

8 Hunter, J. F. M., Thinking about Sex and Love (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1980), 59.

9 Except when it inspires individuals to do more than they could have otherwise. On this, and on the entire topic of ‘ought implies can’, see Resche, Nicholasr, Ethical Idealism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

10 Cf. Hatchings, P. E., ‘Conjugal Faithfulness’, Human Values, Vesey, Godfrey (ed.) (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1978).

11 Hunter, J. F. M., Thinking about Sex and Love, 59. Cf. Parfit, Derek, ‘Later Selves and Moral Principles’, Philosophy and Personal Relations, Montefiore, A. (ed.) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973).

12 Mendus, Susan, ‘Marital Faithfulness’, Philosophy 59 (1984), 246.

13 P. 247.

14 Soble, Alan, The Structure of Love (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 166167.

15 Solomon, Robert, Love: Emotion, Myth and Metaphor (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1981), 224.

16 P. 227.

17 Cf. Blum, Lawrence A., Friendship, Altruism and Morality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980).

18 Solomon, Robert, About Love (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 40.

19 P. 134.

20 Midgley, Mary, Beast and Man (New York: New American Library, 1980), 303.

21 Slote, Michael, Goods and Virtues (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 62ff.

22 Nussbaum, Martha C., The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge University Press, 1986), 359361.

23 Williams, Bernard, Moral Luck (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 26ff.

24 Russell, Bertrand, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 1 (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), 195196.

25 Quoted by Strachey, Barbara in Remarkable Relations (London: Victor Gollancz, 1980), 216.

26 Midgley, Mary, Wisdom, Information and Wonder (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 157.

27 Nin, Anaïs, Henry and June (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 29.

28 P. 229.

29 Slote, Michael, Goods and Virtues, 77ff.

30 Sonnet, 116.

31 Day, Dorothy, The Long Loneliness (New York: Harper & Row, 1952), 147148.

32 Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Gay Science, trans. Kaufmann, Walter (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 232.

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