Just and Unjust

The Milgram experiment: one of the most popular in social science; and yet, one of the most ethically challenged. This experiment tested one’s willingness to obey authoritative figures, even when the orders were morally unjust. In its infancy, this experiment was created to have similarity to the trials Nazi war criminals were subject to (https://explorable.com/milgram-experiment-ethics). However, no matter the motive, I find the experiment to be completely unethical based on a plethora of reasons. Firstly, people were deceived and psychologically traumatized. When the test subject was brought into the room and told the rules, not all aspects of the experiment were disclosed. Of course, a social experiment may need leeway in order to get proper results; however, it may not be at the test subject’s expense. A researcher must have the test subject’s consent; thus, already having informed them of all the requirements and possibilities prior to beginning (Openstax, 2016, pg. 43). Furthermore, the experiment was deceptive in that the “teacher” truly thought that they were harming the “student” throughout the entirety of the test. Although this was not the case, that psychological stress may have detrimental effects on the participant.

The Zimbardo ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ is yet another social experiment that is prominent in sociological study; and yet, highly unethical. Philip Zimbardo planned to analyze the relationship between people and power. However, this experiment turned into a psychological nightmare for the ‘prisoners’ involved. The participants agreed to the experiment; however, they did not agree to the detrimental effects of the abuse that would ensue. This experiment delves into the concerning situation of a “power-hungry” person in authority. When the ‘guards’ were given the opportunity and encouragement to take their power and run with it, they truly did, at the expense of the ‘prisoners’. This experiment makes the need for ethical protocol to exist in relation to social experiments. Thus, sociologists today must cease work in the study if a participant’s safety is in jeopardy (Openstax, 2016, pg. 43).

Although both experiments went above and beyond ethical boundaries; without them, we would not know or understand the need of an ethical code of conduct. Humans learn from trial and error; and thus, the social sciences have learned from these experiments. I believe that without these experiments, not only would sociologists not have set boundaries, but we also would not have the understanding we do regarding authoritative obedience.

If I were a professional sociologist, I would ironically study authoritative obedience. I find the subject extremely intriguing. Although I would intend to have a more ethical approach, I would love to test and observe people in different situations with authority. I find it interesting that we are conditioned to listen to our elders, people that were a uniform, teachers, etc. I would like to know where the line of morality draws itself when it comes to listening and following ones directions.