In this exercise, I want you to show me that you can think like a utilitarian and like a deontologist. What follows is a synopsis of a very famous psychological experiment carried out by Stanley Milgram in 1974. Please read through the case carefully. After reading the case, imagine that you are sitting on an institutional research board reviewing Milgram’s work and determining if he should have been allowed to carry out this experiment, or not. I want you to do this evaluation twice, first from a utilitarian perspective and then from a deontological perspective. In both evaluations, ask yourself if it was moral to conduct this experiment.
our response should be at least 100 words in length. Any references or citations used should be in APA style.
In his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority, Stanley Milgram reports experiments on destructive obedience. In these experiments the subjects are faced with a dramatic choice, one apparently involving extreme pain and perhaps injury to someone else. When the subject arrives at the laboratory, the experimenter tells him (or her) and another subject—a pleasant…middle-aged gentleman (actually an actor)—that the study concerns the effects of punishment on learning. Through a rigged drawing, the lucky subject wins the role of teacher and the experimenter’s confederate becomes the “learner.” In the next stage of the experiment, the teacher and learner are taken to an adjacent room; the learner is strapped into a chair and electrodes are attached to his arm. It appears impossible for the learner to escape. While strapped in a chair, the learner diffidently mentions that he has a heart condition. The experimenter replies that while the shocks may be painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage. The teacher is instructed to read to the learner a list of word pairs, to test him on the list, and to administer punishment—an electric shock—whenever the learner errs. The teacher is given a sample shock of 45 volts (the only real shock administered in the course of the experiment). The experimenter instructs the teacher to increase the level of shock one step on the shock generator for each mistake. The generator has thirty switches labeled from 15 to 450 volts. Beneath these voltage reading are labels ranging from “SLIGHT SHOCK” to “DANGER: SEVERE SHOCK,” and finally “XX.”
The experimenter starts routinely. At the fifth shock level, however, the confederate grunts in annoyance, and by the time the eighth shock level is reached, he shouts that the shocks are becoming painful. Upon reaching the tenth level (150 volts), he cries out, “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment anymore! I refuse to go on!” This response makes plain the intensity of the pain and underscores the learner’s right to be released. At the 270-volt level, the learner’s response becomes an agonized scream and at 300-volts, the learner refuses to answer further. When the voltage is increased from 300 volts to 330 volts, the confederate shrieks in pain at each shock and gives no answer. From 330 volts on, the learner is heard from no more, and the teacher has no way of knowing whether the learner is still conscious or, for that matter, alive (the teacher also knows that the experimenter cannot tell the condition of the victim since the experimenter is in the same room as the teacher).
Typically, the teacher attempts to break off the experiment many times during the session. When he tries to do so, the experimenter instructs him to continue. If he refuses, the experimenter insists, finally telling him, “You must continue. You have no other choice.” If the subject still refuses, the experimenter ends the experiment.
We would expect that only a small minority of the subjects, a cross section of New Haven residents, would continue to shock beyond the point where the victim screams in pain and demands to be released. We certainly would expect that very, very few people would continue to the point of administering shocks of 450 volts. Indeed, Milgram asked a sample of psychiatrists and a sample of adults with various occupations to predict whether they would disobey at some point. Aware that people would be unwilling to admit that they themselves would obey such an unreasonable and unconscionable order, Milgram asked another sample of middle-class adults to predict how far other people would go in such a procedure. The average prediction was that perhaps one person in a thousand would continue to the end. The prediction was wrong. In fact, 65 percent (26/40) of the subjects obeyed to the end.
Much has been learned about obedience from this experiment. All sorts of human behavior have been better understood from the way the “teachers” behaved. We understand some of the holocaust better as a result of this experiment. (Sabini & Silver, 1985, pp. 13-17)
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