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Authors

Adam Chernew

Abstract

In the early 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of studies at Yale University in which he measured the willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure (the experimenter) who instructed them to administer electrical shocks to a confederate under the guise that the experiment was testing the effects of punishment on learning. Although the electrical shocks were fake, these famous obedience experiments are, to this day, recognized as some of the most controversial psychology experiments of all time. While Milgram's experiments yielded seemingly profound insight about human obedience to authority, many in his field were quick to criticize his work for violating research ethics. Over the past fifty years, not much has changed. The consensus amongst the philosophical community is still that Milgram's obedience experiments were largely unethical, and that his procedure would never be approved by an IRB today. This paper, however, challenges this popular notion. To do so, it reexamines the criticism of some of Milgram's sharpest detractors, namely Diana Baumrind, Steven Pattern, and Steve Clarke. In addressing these critiques, I incorporate both arguments that Milgram made in his own defense, as well as my own arguments. Ultimately, I show that none of the arguments accusing Milgram of harming his subjects purport definitive evidence that they subjects were actually considerably harmed.

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