Why it's bad for you to be rich – the effects of wealth on empathy

Gisbert Kapp N334
Wednesday 16 October 2019 (15:15-17:00)

globalethicsevents@contacts.bham.ac.uk (Wouter Peeters)

  • Merten Reglitz (Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham)

Merten Reglitz is Lecturer in Global Ethics at the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics. His main research interests include global distributive justice, egalitarianism, socio-economic justice, political legitimacy, and Kant’s political theory. He is currently working on questions of distributive justice in the Eurozone and the idea of internet access as a human right. Merten is also currently collaborating with Wouter Peeters on the application for an AHRC Network that will investigate the question “Are we on the way to a post-liberal world?” He is particularly interested in collaborating on projects related to socio-economic inequality, global justice, and research on the internet. Merten’s articles on various topics have appeared in internationally-renowned peer-reviewed journals such as Utilitas, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, European Journal of Political Theory, Res Publica, and Moral Philosophy & Politics.

This seminar is part of the 2019-20 Global Ethics Tea Seminar Series hosted by the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics.

The talk will start at 15:15, but please join us for tea and cake from 14:00.


For many people today, being materially wealthy is a guiding ideal and aim for their lives. The ideal of being wealthy is standardly understood as possessing resources that allow purchasing luxury goods and activities, with complete discretion over what this wealth is used for, and with no need to justify that wealth to anyone (besides the tax authorities). In this paper I argue that being rich in this sense is morally bad for affluent persons themselves. Being rich is bad for a person because possessing abundant resources is likely decreasing their capacity to feel compassion and empathy, as has been shown in a number of empirical studies. But empathy is important for people leading morally good life. Thus the empathy-reducing effects of wealth provide an important ethical reason for not adopting and following the popular ideal of being wealthy. 

Culture and collections

Schools, institutes and departments

Services and facilities