Milgram, Method and Morality



In Milgram's experiments, subjects were induced to inflict what they believed to be electric shocks in obedience to a man in a white coat. This suggests that many can be persuaded to torture, and perhaps kill, another person simply on the say-so of an authority figure. But the experiments have been attacked on methodological, moral and methodologico-moral grounds. Patten argues that the subjects probably were not taken in by the charade; Bok argues that lies should not be used in research; and Patten insists that any excuse for Milgram's conduct can be adapted on behalf of his subjects. (Either he was wrong to conduct the experiments or they do not establish the phenomenon of immoral obedience). We argue that the subjects were indeed taken in, that lies (though usually wrong) were in this case legitimate, and that there were excuses available to Milgram which were not available to his subjects. So far from ‘disrespecting’his subjects, Milgram enhanced their autonomy as rational agents. We concede however that it might be right to prohibit what it was right to do. [1]