Obedience to authority is a basic tenant of any human social organization. Virtually every society has developed some sort of hierarchy in which some individuals exercise a degree of authority over others. Teachers have authority over their students; police officers have authority over members of the public. It is hard to conceive of a society that could function without this type of arrangement. However, there are times when private belief and compliance with those in authority may come into conflict. The resolution of this type of conflict represents one of the oldest problems in philosophy and religion. .
In the sociological study entitled Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram, we clearly view how strong of an effect authority has on the perception of moral decency and internal struggle. A film dealing with this same topic of compliance to authority is The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir. In this picture, a man named Truman Burbank is caught inside a controlled environment that conceals its true nature. Unbeknownst to him, he is living inside a 24 hour-a-day comedy-melodrama in which he is the star. When Truman eventually learns of the true nature of his world, he defies all authority to regain his freedom and re-orient himself with true reality. Collectively, the written work and the motion picture portray the limitations of a person on his/her obedience and compliance to authority.
Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, conducted a study focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. He examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Their defense often was based on "obedience"; that they were just following the orders of their superiors. For this reason, Milgram desired to study the effects of authority on individuals using an experiment. In the experiment, so-called "teachers" (who were actually the unknowing subjects of the experiment) were recruited by Milgram.