Deep Conflicting Moral Impulses

Back in 1961, Stanley Milgram from Yale, experimented on whether people would harm others because an authority figure commanded them to do so and what kind of internal moral conflict this produced in the participants.

It was Milgram’s intention to find out why many of the Nazi war criminals did what they did during the regime of Hitler without ever questioning the horrific orders. In order to replicate the pressure situation, he tested participant pairs where he deemed on to be the learner and the other to be the teacher. Teachers were told to administer electric shocks on learners every time they answered a question wrong. (who were kept secluded away in some other room). In reality though no one was getting shocked. Milgram would then play recordings that showed the learner in pain as if receiving a shock. If ever the teacher wished to stop hurting the learner, Milgram would then edge them on a little. In the experiment, nearly 65% of all participants delivered the full 450-volt final shock even though most were uncomfortable and stressed when doing this.

The study warns of the consequences of blind obedience. In a recent quest, Scientific America revisited this study and argued that the results suggested further deeper moral conflict that previously Milgram envisioned.

The moral code of human beings does include the ability to be kind, respectful, good, empathetic to group members, fellow kin but at the same time has an inclination towards cruelty, xenophobia and harmful intentions. All humans have a conflicted moral compass inside that they have to constantly work on.

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