We’ve all been there. We’re in a conversation with someone, and they mention a piece of information that we know could cause harm to someone we care about. At that moment, we’re faced with a choice: do we share the information or withhold it to protect our loved ones? This is the phenomenon of loyalty bias.

Loyalty bias is the suppression of truthful information or opinions to protect someone or something the individual values. This can happen in personal relationships as well as in professional settings where there is a sense of loyalty or solidarity. But loyalty bias can also have negative consequences, like violating ethical principles and eroding trust.

The ethical implications of loyalty bias are complex, as we must weigh several considerations, including loyalty vs. honesty, public interest vs. personal interest, professional obligations, and legal considerations. Take, for instance, a person with a family member who works in government and has become privy to details that aren’t public knowledge. This information could hurt the family member’s career or livelihood if passed on. In this situation, the individual may prioritize their loyalty to their family member and choose to withhold the information.

But this decision could also be seen as a violation of the ethical principle of honesty. It raises questions about our responsibility to act according to our moral beliefs, which could impair our judgment and decision-making. Immanuel Kant would argue that individuals have a duty to always act in accordance with universal moral principles, such as honesty, and that loyalty should not take precedence. John Stuart Mill emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech and the right to express one’s opinions and may argue that individuals should be free to share information if they believe it is in the public interest. Martha Nussbaum would argue for the importance of moral courage and may encourage individuals to speak out against injustice, even if it puts their loyalty to someone at risk.

Loyalty bias can also raise questions about our responsibility to act in the public interest or to uphold standards of professional conduct in our work. This can create a situation where our actions are seen as unethical and damage our reputation and relationships.

So, how do we navigate this ethical quandary? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. We must weigh a range of ethical and practical considerations and make a decision that is both ethical and practical. By being aware of loyalty bias and its ethical implications, we can work to make more informed and ethical decisions in our personal and professional lives.