Authority versus Morality Essay examples

Authority versus Morality Essay examples

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The horrors of Holocaust persist through modern society’s collective memory as one of the greatest crimes against humanity. Till today, the question of how Nazi participants could act so brutally under the orders of Hitler still perplexes many people. In Obedience to Authority, psychologist Stanley Milgram discusses his series of experiments in 1960s that attempted to discover to what extent individuals would obey orders from authority, even when committing grievous offenses against morality. The results of his experiments uncover how the influence of authority overrides that of moral character.
The majority of the subjects exhibit distress throughout the experiment, which indicates their adequate sense of morality. While it is impractical to define the explicit rules of moral conduct, the immorality in harming an innocent stranger has permeated our collective value system. As observed in Milgram’s survey, the audience expresses discomfort in administering the shocks, believing that only “a pathological fringe” (Milgram 31) lacking moral sense could be completely obedient. In accordance to their belief, survey respondents express unanimous inclination to disobey, implying that they all believe shocking a helpless victim violates a “moral requirement” (6). Moreover, they often explain this violation with empathy for the victim and distress in inflicting the pain. Both of these attributes are commonly found in the actual experiments’ subjects’ behavior. For instance, subject Fred Prozi in Experiment Five continuously expresses great distress concerning the learner’s well-being (76). This strong inclination against harming the learner suggests Prozi’s accord to moral behavior. Another subject, Morris Braverman in Experiment ...


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...ew feet away from the subject, the obedience level is almost “three times as great” (62) as when the experimenter is physically removed from the room.
Therefore, Milgram’s experiments exemplify how the influence of moral character on a person’s behavior is secondary to that of authority. An overwhelming majority of subjects proceed to the end of the shock board, despite of their moral conviction to refrain from harming an innocent victim. Indeed, although morality is often perceived as the guiding code of conduct, values are “but one narrow band of causes in the total spectrum of forces” (6) influencing an individual’s behavior. Through analyzing Milgram’s studies, one can observe the ease of acting against better judgment under orders from authority. While this does not justify the actions of the Nazis, it does provide complexity when examining their situation.

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