Perils of Obedience: Milgram's Study

“The Perils of Obedience” Summary

Harvard graduate, Stanley Milgram, is regarded as one of the most important psychologists in the twentieth century for his revolutionary contributions to multicultural research, the mechanics of social networks, and urban psychology. Milgram’s “The Perils of Obedience” offers the most controversial but bold insight on how far people are willing to go against their moral structure to obey authority. The result of his experiments states that ordinary people will more than likely succumb to authoritative order despite their moral conscience.

Milgram conducts a series of experiments in which people are completely oblivious to the nature of it all. These participants were labeled as “teachers” and were the primary focus of each experiment, which were required and willingly administered what they believed were powerful shocks to an actor portraying the “learner” each time he answered incorrectly for a test. Despite the screams of agony by the “victim” of receiving what the teachers assumed to be immense pain, 25 of 40 participants continued to give electric shocks until the very end.

Milgram asserts that people will justify their actions by transferring the responsibility to the authority figure over themselves. He examines this by referencing and agreeing with Hannah Ardent and her stance on her book Eichmann in Jerusalem as he also believes that the prosecution’s effort to portray Eichmann as a “sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong,” because he was under authoritative order (Milgram 75). Eichmann was described to be an ordinary bureaucrat who lived a sedentary life. In contrast, Milgram does not believe people are naturally aggressive, but do as they are told out of obligation.

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At this point, he discovers that Arendt’s perspective of aggressive tendencies leads to another and final assertion. He suggests that obedience is not entirely psychological, and defines one of the conclusions from his experiments that people will go against their own judgements of what is right and wrong to satisfy the requests of an authority figure in which he labels this to be “socially organized evil” or in other terms, the division of labor.

Milgram’s experiments more accurately explain historical events of people under the influence of authority, such as the Holocaust. Whereas in past courses, it was diction and language that explained Adolf Hitler’s influence, it is evident that there are other psychological and social factors to consider. Milgram’s experiments serve as a confirmation of Ardent’s thesis of the banality of evil. The combination of Arendt’s analysis of the Banality of Evil with the Milgram experiments is necessary to understand the refutation of naturally aggressive tendencies. This ties together with his assertion of the dangers of socially organized evil. The vain flaw of setting aside any rationale or morality to please authority can be potentially dangerous in different situations. However, when people can count on the rule of law to for punishment, they are less susceptible to admit responsibility. Conversely, when society lacks a mechanism to defend people’s rights, a number of possible outcomes may occur. In everyday situations, people will obey authority for being rewarded, or for avoiding the consequences of disobeying. However, in extreme situations such as the experiment where stark authority went against the participants’ moral structure to clarify the Milgram’s principle argument. In essence, these interpersonal and societal factors support Stanley Milgram’s argument in his shock experiments that have exemplified the willingness people will go to satisfy an authority figure and continues to encourage further research on what drives people to obey authority.

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Perils of Obedience: Milgram's Study. (2022, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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