Obedience and disobedience paper help:

Human beings obey because obedience is part of their nature. However, they also disobey because disobedience is also a human behavior. Yet, whether man is going to obey or disobey, in a certain situation that demands decision and action, depends on many factors and aspects related to the psychological and social characteristics of the individual. Through obedience, man achieves his needs for belonging, safety, and security, but through disobedience, man  can achieve his needs to fulfill his morality and to be different and innovative.

The relationship between man and authority has existed for thousands of years. In the average individual’s life, there are many sources and types of authority. There is formal authority as in the authority of the state or the supervisor, and there is informal authority as in the authority of the parent or elder brother. Authority is always identified to be strong, and deep inside himself, man loves and worships authority. This is why human beings are inclined to obey, because, as Erich Fromm states, “my obedience makes me part of the power I worship, and hence I feel strong” (p.402).

Fromm further argues that it is not only a matter of worshiping power, but also a matter of fulfilling man’s basic needs for security that makes human beings obey, “As long as I am obedient to the power of the state, the Church, or public opinion, I feel safe and protected. In fact, it makes little difference what power it is that I am obedient to” (p.401).

While Fromm’s arguments are very clear and straightforward, reflecting human nature and inclinations, they also contain a threatening aspect. The threat is that the nature of the authority is not important, and that the behavior reflecting obedience is not of concern, so long as obedience is achieved. While this is reassuring for power, authority and the institutions that represent them, it is not at all reassuring to human conscience, morality and wisdom. It simply implies that man is inclined to obey power at times, even when this authority is all evil and destructive. This view has been shared by Moti Nissani who states that “what people cannot be counted on is to realize that a seemingly benevolent authority is in fact malevolent, even when they are faced with overwhelming evidence that suggests that this authority is indeed malevolent” (p. 382).

Such a statement helps explain much of human inhuman behavior under authority. The atrocities conducted in war by organized armies, by individuals who would not under other circumstances yield themselves to such behaviors are perhaps the product of such blind obedience. It is this particular issue that has raised Stanley Milgram’s curiosity, resulting in his famous (or infamous) experiments in which subjects were asked to punish a person who failed to learn. Even though the punishment through electric shocks was fake, the subjects believed that they were actually inflicting pain on the victim. Astonishingly, about 65% of the subjects continued to inflict the punishment in obedience to the authority of the experimenter, even when this created a conflict with their morals or led them to face tremendous stress and pressure. This made Milgram to conclude that “the subjects do not derive satisfaction from inflicting pain, but they often like the feeling they get from pleasing the experimenter” (p.369). In other words, the subjects did what they did, even when it contradicted their beliefs and moral standards, simply because they were doing their job, and fulfilling their duty. Surprisingly, many of the subjects went as far as inflicting shocks which they believed could be fatal. This is because the subjects did not feel responsible for what they were doing; after all they were only carrying out orders, a behavior which Milgram interprets saying, “For a person to feel responsible for his actions, he must sense that the behavior has flowed from ‘the self’” (p.370).

Milgram’s experiments showed that a person does not need to be sadistic to behave in a sadistic way. All it takes is an authority that gives orders and subjects who receive and carry out these orders. Individuals carry out orders because they identify with authority. Carrying out these orders enables them to feel safe, secure and satisfied without moral burdens.

Through these attempts, Milgram simply tried to explain why many German soldiers worked in the concentration camps killing thousands without trying to resist, why the nuclear bomb was dropped in cold blood, and why a million other immoral act are conducted by individuals who are obeying authority. By obeying, man is simply trying to protect himself by identifying with authority, and with the virtues of authority.

But why does man continue to obey, even when he knows that the authority he is obeying and that the orders he is carrying out are immoral or against his own morals? Not all human beings will obey in that case, but most of them will. This does not imply that most human beings are immoral. On the contrary, it implies that morality has a flexible nature. For an average obedient person, murder is immoral, but murdering in the line of duty is not. In the first stage, the individual feels that he is not responsible since authority by default and in his eyes assumes the responsibility for his actions. In the second stage, the moral standards against which the attributes of the action are evaluated will be immediately changed. Rather than thinking in absolute terms of morality and immorality of the act, the individual thinks in terms of whether he has performed the tasks demanded by authority satisfactorily or not. This was concluded by Milgram following his experiments when he points out that “Morality does not disappear¾it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed actions called for by authority” (p.370).

While the majority obeyed in Milgram’s experiments, a minority, nevertheless, resisted, simply disobeyed. They refused to carry out the orders. In Milgram’s experiences, these disobedient people were not rogues or riffraff people as the term ‘disobedient’ often insinuates. Rather, they were self-assertive, self-confident and calm people. More importantly, Milgram considers them to be courageous and even different when he states that “few people have the resources to resist authority” (p. 369).

Disobedience at best is seen as a sinful behavior. Disobedience involves the violation of the rules of society and the regulations of authority, and to do that, it certainly takes a lot of courage. To take a decision to disobey, to be different and to swim against the current demands courage and will. In Fromm’s opinion, “in order to disobey, one must have the courage to be alone, to err and to sin” (p.402). Because disobedience is so demanding, and because its consequences are highly uncertain, the average man feels insecure, uncertain, and unwilling about breaking the laws of authority. Indeed, Doris Lessing claims that “it is the hardest thing in the world to maintain an individual dissident opinion as a member of a group” (p.357).

Moreover, authority can always preserve itself by securing the obedience of subjects and individuals. Society and its traditions and norms are also preserved in a similar manner. This is why the disobedient is usually pictured as evil, sinful and as an outlaw, because as Fromm argues, “During most of human history obedience has been identified with virtue and disobedience with sin” (p.402). Thus, when an individual decides to disobey and defy authority, he is simply violating virtue, at least from authority’s perspective, and since authority’s perspective is prevalent, disobedience is thus a violation of the virtue adopted by the majority or by the dominant group.

The dilemma of obedience and disobedience will continue forever, or at least, as Fromm fears, until the person who is given an order to press the button that will result in a global nuclear destruction, will decide whether to carry out that order or simply disobey. Obedience has certainly maintained the organized development of mankind. However, in many cases, obedience has also resulted in serious backlashes, especially on the moral level. On the other hand, while disobedience remains the unwanted, avoided, and unsafe behavior, it has contributed to pushing man’s fate and life into new dimensions and beyond many horizons, but only because there were a few who refused to carry orders, or who acted out of their own selves. Yet in the meantime, most men will continue to obey to feel safe, secure and satisfied, whereas at the same time, a few will disobey, to feel different, assertive, but also satisfied.































Fromm, Erich. “Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem.” In

Laurence Behrens & Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Writing and reading across

the curriculum. 6thedition. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.,



Lessing, Doris. “Group minds.” In Laurence Behrens & Leonard J. Rosen, eds.

Writing and reading across the curriculum. 6thedition. New York: Addison

Wesley Longman, Inc., 1997: 356-358.


Milgram, Stanley. “The perils of obedience.” In Laurence Behrens & Leonard J.

Rosen, eds. Writing and reading across the curriculum. 6thedition. New

York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1997: 359-372.


Nissani, Moti. “Review of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience.” In

Laurence Behrens & Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Writing and reading across

the curriculum. 6thedition. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.,

1997: 379-383.