How do philosophers explain the change in one's ethical code when given a lot of power?

Some people can be very ethical people and be completely consistent in terms of ethics like say Chomsky, but when given enormous power, they abuse it and sometimes even become a completely different person. How do philosophers explain this? Is there some kind of observations philosophers have made for cases like this and how generalized do they think it is within the general population?

  • 3
    Not sure why you think philosophy rather than psychology should deal with this kind of issue. May 10, 2021 at 7:55
  • Kant would call it lack of character. "Philosophy" calls nothing. Individual authors do.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 11, 2021 at 8:51

1 Answer 1


I think there is a dialog with Socrates that has to do with this somewhat. It's called the tale of the ring of Gyges.

In Republic, the tale of the ring of Gyges is described by the character of Glaucon who is the brother of Plato. Glaucon asks whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of killing, robbing, raping, or generally doing injustice to whomever he pleased if he could do so without having to fear detection. Glaucon wants Socrates to argue that it's beneficial for us to be just apart from all considerations of our reputation.

In the end great power doesn't make anyone evil, but instead it makes evil more visible in a person that is already capable of doing such things. with out power they never end up doing great harm.

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