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The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry

Jonathan Stoltz
University of St. Thomas

Fraternal polyandry—one woman simultaneously being married to two or more brothers—has been a prominent practice within Tibetan agricultural societies for many generations. While the topic of Tibetan polyandry has been widely discussed in the field of anthropology, there are, to my knowledge, no contributions by philosophers on this topic. For this reason alone, my brief analysis of the ethics of Tibetan polyandry will serve to enhance scholars’s understanding of this practice. In this article, I examine the factors that have sustained the practice of polyandry in Tibet, but do so with the further aim of drawing attention to some of the key ethical implications of polyandrous marriage. I argue that the natural law criticisms raised against the practice of polyandry by St. Thomas Aquinas are unsuccessful, but I also argue that the utilitarian motivations for this marriage practice endorsed by agrarian Tibetans are also highly suspect.

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