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What "Pierces the Eye and Revolts the Heart" : Boundaries of Obedience and Complexities in Moral Reasoning in the Israeli Military


The power of hierarchical institutions and figures of authority to influence individuals and command compliance has been the focus of considerable controversy. Yet unjust authority and undue power also stir dissent and social change. The military, especially, presents an institution in which authority, discipline, and obedience are central, alongside examples of conscientious objection and morally-driven disobedience. The current study examines Israeli soldiers' use of a variety of social concepts (moral, social-conventional, personal, and pragmatic) in reasoning about acts of both resistance and adherence to military and non-military authority.

The sample consisted of 64 Israeli reserve soldiers, recently discharged from mandatory service in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Participants were interviewed about 10 hypothetical situations depicting both acts of obedience and of disobedience to direct commands, rules, or regulations in the IDF or in the civilian work-place. Judgments and justifications of the protagonists' actions were compared by institutional context (military or non-military), domain of social knowledge (moral, conventional, or mixed-domain/political), and by the protagonist's response (violation or compliance).

Across contexts, disobedience in the moral domain was more positively evaluated than violations of social conventions as well as politically-driven refusal. Across domains, resistance was judged as more legitimate in the civilian workplace than in the military. Finally, obedience and disobedience were not evaluated as inverse-opposites, but rather evaluations and justifications revealed more complex relations between these two behavioral responses, and this relationship differed by domain.

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