Polygamy and infidelity

Adam Phillips again. Here is what he says about monogamy that I find quite interesting:

Like a magnet that collects our virtues and vices, monogamy makes the larger abstractions real, as religion once did. Faith, hope, trust, morality; these are domestic matters now. Indeed, we contrast monogamy not with bigamy or polygamy but with infidelity, because it is our secular religion. God may be dead, but the faithful couple won't lie down. (Monogamy, p.10)

There are indeed people whose understanding of monogamy comes from their religion, but Phillips are not talking about them. What he suggests is that people, including (or particularly) those who do not have a religion, need monogamy the way they need religion.

This sounds to me an exaggeration. I do think, however, he is right that we contrast monogamy with infidelity. This raises a question: How is infidelity in polygamy different from infidelity in monogamy? In polygamy, when the husband (or the wife if it is polyandry) is unfaithful, he is unfaithful to more than one person. Is it worse than, or not as bad as, being unfaithful to just one person as in the case of infidelity in monogamy? Conversely, when one of the wives is unfaithful, can we say that she is unfaithful only to part of the husband because she shares him with his other wives? If we can say that, should we also say that her infidelity is not as bad as that in monogamy?


  1. Are you asking, if one kills one people is committing a smaller crime than one kills one hundred people?

  2. When reading this post it prompted me to think about the issue of quantity vs. quality. It's not the quantity but the unfaithfulness/infidelity itself that matters. May be I got your message wrong.

  3. Some may think being unfaithful to two people is worse than being unfaithful to only one person.

  4. it's my thought that being unfaithful (or to take others' lives), is not the number of people one hurts that counts, but the act...?

  5. muiji,

    Maybe you are right. However, one may still want to ask why the number of people involved wouldn't matter.

  6. Though it might be true that most people need monogamy the way they need religion, I think the main reason to avoid infidelity, bigamy, and polygamy is that they're simply too emotionally exhausting. Getting one romantic relationship to thrive and sustain you over time is close to a miracle. Adding others to the mix—either openly or secretly—merely increases exponentially the probability of emotional turmoil, your own and others (and not because people need monogamy like they need religion). The very thought of juggling two relationships (especially one furtively), rather than exciting, exhausts me!

  7. (for the sake of simplicity, let's just use the traditional polygamy; just switch the sexes around whereever it suits. Not to switch the ratio though; and if the third sex or something like that started being introduced, I believe it'd be a new topic)

    The whole concupine belongs to that one man, so to the husband, infidelity committed against him from 1/many or 1/1 isn't much of a huge difference. To him, he lost his property.

    If you are looking at it in terms of "heart", it'd be a different matter. It makes sense that you think of the man being shared. And logically speaking he should feel less violated when a less % of his (darlings) is being unfaithful. But heart doesn't work that way, does it?

    [Thanks to Jones for the practical take on this]

    The issue with the other women is one of contract. The one described above was between the woman and the man. Where other wives may begin to copy the unfaithful one. However, in the case where the contract was made to bound the entire group, only then does Mr. Wong's comment on May 11, 2010 10:23 PM deemed valid.

    God Bless~ =P