- Series: Perennial Classics
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006176521X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061765216
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 83 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (Perennial Classics) Reprint Edition
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... one of the most significant books I have read in more than two decades of reviewing" -- --Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
THE INSPIRATION FOR THE MAJOR MOTION PICTURE THE EXPERIMENTER
“The classic account of the human tendency to follow orders, no matter who they hurt or what their consequences.” — Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
In the 1960s Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram famously carried out a series of experiments that forever changed our perceptions of morality and free will. The subjects—or “teachers”—were instructed to administer electroshocks to a human “learner,” with the shocks becoming progressively more powerful and painful. Controversial but now strongly vindicated by the scientific community, these experiments attempted to determine to what extent people will obey orders from authority figures regardless of consequences. “Milgram’s experiments on obedience have made us more aware of the dangers of uncritically accepting authority,” wrote Peter Singer in the New York Times Book Review. Featuring a new introduction from Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, Obedience to Authority is Milgram’s fascinating and troubling chronicle of his classic study and a vivid and persuasive explanation of his conclusions.
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If you want to understand not just what we know, but how we find out things about the world, read this book.
Milgram's studies were done between 1961 and 1962 while he was at Yale; they were all variations on a theme: a unknowing participant (the subject-teacher) was brought to believe that s/he was participating in a learning study. The other two main participants were a man who posed as the student (the learner) and one who posed as the principal investigator (the authority figure).
The subject-teacher was told that the learning would occur in this way: the student would be hooked up to an electric shock generator while the teacher would read a set of word pairs, which the student would repeat back. When the student missed one of the word pairs, he would be shocked by the "teacher" in increasingly higher shocks (the shocks increased in 15 volt increments), up to 450 volts (which was marked, along with the 435 volt mark, with XXX).
The basic goal of the study was to find out how far the "teachers" would go despite the cries, pounding and eventual silence on the part of the students. The frightening finding was that more often than not, the vast majority of teachers followed through with the command to continue the experiment, which was given by the man acting as the principal investigator every time one of the "teachers" wanted to quit. [It should be noted, however, that the experiment was designed such that the "student" was never shocked, as the student was an actor, typically in a connected room and could only be heard via microphone.]
One of the things that makes reading Milgram's studies so chilling is the scientific exactness of Milgram's own writing style as he describes the studies. The moral and ethical issues raised in these studies, although addressed by Milgram in his narrating the book, are also expressed in this same mathematically cold style. It's almost like a bad science fiction movie where our whole human story is narrated - moral failures and all - with robotic precision. It's unsettling.
Of course, it *should* be: any experiment that deals with human interaction on such a violent and perversely authoritarian level ought to get us a bit uncomfortable. Of course, Milgram also notes that when the subjects were confronted with their own complicitness, they often blamed others or excused themselves in some way. It really does give a tremendous insight into the psychology of human beings: when faced with our own evil, we try to excuse it rather than deal with it.
If, at the end of reading Milgram's book, we aren't questioning ourselves and our ability to be violent and to promote the spread of violence by being passive, we have missed the entire point of the book. Milgram's goal is to not simply report the collection and analysis of data, but to engage the reader on a fundamentally moral level. He cites Hannah Arendt's work Eichman in Jerusalem and notes that evil is not necessarily expressed in a pro-active way; indeed, it can be far more subtle but no less dangerous.
Milgram's book is one well worth the effort. It reveals an element of human being that is so easy to forget, especially given that our culture is so bent on *denying* any element of - or at least any potential for - evil within ourselves. Of course, such blindness to the reality of evil and tragedy is what makes *letting it happen* so easy.
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as defined by the "individual-within-a-'group'."