Milgram’s experiment provided a logical answer to these questions: ‘is it possible that people will do things because they are merely obeying the orders of a person in authority or ‘what will motivate a decent person to do unethical acts? ’ The answer to these questions was very important during his time. During the World War II over 5 Million Jews were executed by the National Socialist Regime led by Adolf Hitler.
Stanley Milgram, a Yale University Psychologist, theorized that it is very much possible that Adolf Eichmann executed these people because he was merely blindly obeying the orders of a superior authority. This means that he was not a principal in the crime but a mere accomplice. This also means that the execution may have been done against his will. Thus, he set up his experiment to test and determine how much pain an ordinary citizen is willing to inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to do so by a scientist, an authority figure.
The result is that 60% to 65% of the participants were prepared to inflict fatal voltages against another person in obedience to the scientist’s order. In Milgram’s experiment, the authority figure represented the scientist. In our lives, a person in authority could be our parents, our professors, our boss in the office, the local policeman, the local priest, a fraternity or sorority senior, or any person in whom trust and respect is reposed. We consider a person to have authority over us because of their age, relationship, position, designation and even skill.
I believe one reason why people obey a person in authority even if the latter’s order is against morality is because one thinks that by obeying a person in authority he no longer becomes the doer of the action but simply the agent. (“Milgram Experiment”) If he has done something wrong then he is not to be blamed. Thus, he rationalizes that any and all moral and legal responsibility for such action should not fall upon him and instead the responsibility should fall upon the shoulders of the person in authority.
Another plausible reason why a person simply obeys a person in authority even if the deed is contrary to his sense of morality is moral ignorance. (“Milgram Experiment”) It is possible that the doer may not know what to do in such a situation as a result his only course of action would be to follow the commands of a person in authority. He may be unaware that there are better options. When people do not know what to do and how to act in a particular situation as a result we allow other person to make decisions for us whom we trust and respect to be capable of making the right decisions.
II. I think children are socialized to obey authority figures primarily because the parents as the first authority figure were raised in the same culture and environment. As part of their socialization process, their own parents raised them in the similar manner where respect for authority figures was emphasized. Thus, they bring family culture and environment to their own families. Also, I think the parents, as the first authority figures in the child’s life want their children to obey them as they have obeyed their own parents.
As part of the discipline process, parents want their children to give respect to them and to follow their wishes and instructions so that it will be easier for them to impose discipline on their own children. Further, from the perspective conforming to the social rules, the parents because of their vast experiences have learned how important it is for one member of the society to obey simple rules e. g. traffic rules, penal laws, company policies. They have also learned that there are times when there are rewards for obeying authority figure or the mere fact that one does not get into trouble is a reward in itself.
As a result they want to pass on to their children that obedience and conformity is a social norm which everybody has to accept so that there will be order and harmony within the society. Thus, it is stated that conformity to social rules is so important that all its members must be inducted to into its moral norms, attitudes, values, motives, social roles, language and symbols because it is the only means by which social and cultural continuity are attained.