c. 1200, "noble birth, high rank or condition," from Old French noblece "noble birth, splendor, magnificence" (Modern French noblesse), from Vulgar Latin *nobilitia, from Latin nobilis (see noble (adj.)). For the Old French suffix -esse, is from Latin -itia, added to adjectives to form nouns of quality, compare fortress.
Post-Middle English uses are perhaps reborrowings from French. The meaning "persons of noble rank" is from 1590s. The French phrase noblesse oblige "privilege entails responsibility, noble birth or rank compels noble acts" (literally "nobility obliges") is attested in English by 1837.
The French term noblesse oblige translates to "nobility obligates," meaning that with great wealth comes the responsibility to give back to those who are less fortunate than oneself. Its relevance today in the practical philanthropic landscape is one example of donor motivations. Over the past two centuries, the meaning of the term has evolved depending on political, econmic, and social factors of the time.
From an economic perspective, noblesse oblige can be seen through the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Corporate social responsibility is when publicly traded corporations claim a responsibility to society and the economy due to their buying power and status. The link between noblesse oblige and CSR is similar in their perceived obligation for the divergence of their resources and wealth to areas of society, environments, and communities which would benefit from additional resources (Hastings, 2016).
(English pronunciations of noblesse oblige from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus and from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, both sources Cambridge University Press)
Research in experimental economics suggests that decision making in strategic interactions is often guided by a concern for fairness. However, experimental economics studies routinely place participants of equal social status and no prior social history in anonymous interactions, a context that would tend to foster the adoption of an egalitarian fairness norm. Extensive research in anthropology (Fiske, 1991) and psychology (Bugental, 2000) suggests that social norms, including fairness norms, are relationship-specific, raising doubts about whether the concern for egalitarian fairness observed in the experimental economics literature would generalize to a wider range of social relations. In this paper we focus on an alternative social norm characteristic of hierarchical relationships: noblesse oblige--the obligation of high-ranking individuals to act honorably and beneficently towards subordinates. In a series of five experiments, we show that the norm of noblesse oblige predicts tolerance of free riding better than individual self-interest does. 041b061a72