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Authority Versus Morality Essay

968 words - 4 pages

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 Two, further exemplifies empathy in his consideration to modify the experiment so he “wouldn’t have to hurt” (54) the learner. Furthermore, he progressively responds to the learner’s agonizing screams with uncomfortable, disruptive laughter. Evident in his interview, the situation far from humors him. Braverman’s seemingly inappropriate reaction elucidates his extreme emotional tension, as he finds himself in “a totally impossible situation” (54), conflicted between his moral judgment and the authority’s orders.
Presuming that moral sense influences one’s behavior more than authority, all distressed subjects would disobey to avoid harming the learner. Indeed, if guided by moral sense, one cannot follow orders that clearly promote immorality. As Milgram observes, when individuals are asked to make a moral judgment on the most appropriate behavior in the experiment’s context, they “unfailingly see disobedience as proper” (6). Indeed, the majority of the subjects are keenly aware of the wrong in administering shocks. Milgram details how the “remarks and behavior” (41) of many subjects imply that they are acting against their moral values in punishing the victim. According to survey respondents, the violation itself is...

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