Compare the different theories of obedience

Essay by krunchHigh School, 12th gradeA+, April 2006

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Obedience is a necessary and essential part of living in social life. Some system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the person dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, with disobedience or submission, to the commands of others. For many people, obedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a strong desire overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.

There are two theories of Obedience; one of these was proposed by Stanley Milgram which was called "Agency theory". This theory suggests that individual conscience can operate in two distinct states, the autonomous state in which behaviours are seen as self directed they behave voluntarily and the agentic state where we are no longer independent. These two distinct modes of social consciousness explain why people who are decent and responsible in ordinary life are prepared to obey orders even when it goes against their conscience and causes them considerable distress.

In the autonomous state we are self governed, responsibility for our own behaviour is accepted and guilt/ conscience dictate and will be felt, we also are independent characters. In this state, we simply act according to our own consciousnesses and in the way we believe to be right. In this state, the vast majority of people behave decently towards others and would not cause them harm if for example we were frustrated and angry. In the same way they feel responsible for their own behaviour and that they should be held to account for it.

However, when confronted by an authority figure, we move into the the agentic state, we are no longer independent but act as an agent for someone else. An important characteristic of the agentic state is that people no longer feel that they are responsible for their...