Philosophy & Politics Science

On Behavioral Ethics and the Burning of Notre Dame

A common misconception about the ideas of ethics and selfishness is that unethical behavior constitutes the behaviors of the wealthy upper-class that furthers these individuals’ wealth, power, and status at the cost of inhibiting the social and economic wealth, power, and status of the middle and lower classes.

According to definition, unethical behavior is actually behavior that is “illegal or morally unacceptable to the large community,” and selfishness refers to a heightened concern with one’s own personal profit or pleasure, both dictionary definitions respectively. According to David Dubois, Adam D. Galinsky, and Derek D. Rucker in their paper titled: “Social Class, Power, and Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically,” empirical social and moral psychology research typically examines these phenomena in the context of unethical behavior and selfish behavior that benefits the perpetrator of these behaviors.

By extrapolating these concepts in light of new research regarding ethics and selfishness, particularly including variables such as power, social class, status, education level and income, we can conclude that all of these factors play a role in the ethics and selfishness of actions. For example, lower-class individuals are found to behave more unethically, however, they’re more selfless and the consequences of their behaviors tend to favor others in a more communal fashion rather than benefit themselves directly.

Considering this research, what is the influence of popularity, impression, and public opinion on whether or not an individual will behave ethically and selflessly? If power, social class, and selfishness among the multitude of other factors dictate the likelihood of an individual behaving in a manner that is deemed unethical, then why do individuals in these presumed psychologically and neurologically predisposed categories behave ethically and selflessly when public opinion favors it? Statistically, if every factor works against the likelihood of an individual behaving selflessly and ethically, then why did so many millionaires and billionaires donate so much money to the Notre Dame relief fund while the Amazon Rainforest burned?

Perhaps self-image plays a larger role in ethicality and selfishness than other factors. The importance of self-image to a person in conjunction with how they view their self-image likely has a positive correlation between whether an individual is likely to commit an unethical or selfish action if public opinion and privacy are factors. If the wealthy individuals who donated to Notre Dame, rather than the Amazon Forest relief fund to put out the fires that are burning up our earth’s oxygen supply, only had the option to donate anonymously, would Notre Dame receive the same funding as it actually received? If given the option to donate anonymously to Notre Dame, or donate publicly to the Amazon Forest relief, which option would individuals choose, and does that make the action ethical or unethical, selfish or selfless?

Considering the other factors that play a role in whether or not an individual is likely to commit an unethical act, be it out of selfishness or selflessness, what role does education level, socioeconomic status, and power play in the likelihood of an individual being unethical or selfish publicly versus privately? This is an important research topic because individuals act differently when others are watching versus how they act when they’re alone. For example, I may listen to one type of music when I’m with friends, another genre when I’m with coworkers or my supervisors, and an entirely different genre when I’m alone. I also may not even listen to music depending on the party I’m with (or not with). An example of how publicity versus privacy plays a role in ethicality and decision making would be supporting the LGBT community. If you’re a staunch supporter of individual rights, and believe that everybody should be able to get married regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and outward presentation of social traits, you would tend to behave in a manner that doesn’t necessarily imply or express that belief around your strict conservative family.

Presentation of beliefs and whether individuals choose to make a statement that could very well be deemed unethical depends entirely on the publicity or privacy of their statement. With this research in mind, we’re presented with newfound insight into the politics of ethics. By adopting Dubois, Rucker, and Galinskys’ research on this side of ethics, how can we change public economic policies regarding distribution of wealth and wealth inequality? Does benevolence play more of a role in the distribution of wealth towards programs that benefit the working class and the environment, or should we begin to shift away from the notion that human nature leans towards benevolence and instead adopt economic policies that redistribute wealth more effectively? The role that the publicity or privacy of behaviors and public statements plays in our society is expansive and complex- hopefully future research into the subject can provide intersectional context to the psychology of politics, as well as the politics of the discipline of psychology.


Dubois, D., Rucker, D. D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015, January 26). Social Class, Power, and
Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

By abdullahkinan

24, college student, cars, science, blah blah

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