Moral Exclusion And The Holocaust

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Arguably, one of the most well-known experiments regarding the tendency of humans to inflict harm upon strangers under orders from perceived authority figures is Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments in 1963 (Smith, Aquino, Koleva & Graham, 2014). The experiment was based on the Nuremberg Trials, wherein the Nazi soldiers on trial claimed that they were only following orders, and as such implied a lesser role in their crimes during the Holocaust. While there are many factors that influence injustice against a people, in this paper, the role of moral exclusion will be examined in detail in order to ascertain how those excluded from powerful groups by virtue of their lineage and race could then be subjected to significant harm, and perhaps…show more content…
When particular individuals or groups are thought not to be included in the boundary wherein moral values, rules and personal principles of fairness apply, moral exclusion arises (Opotow, 1990). This is because humans have specific beliefs about fairness that they base their judgements upon, such as who should be treated justly and who is included in the group that deserves fairness. This boundary that the individual sets is called the “moral community,” or the “scope of justice.” In times of conflict, groups tend to become more focused with the welfare of their own group members, and the concern for justice for groups other than their own diminishes significantly. Depending on the group, those who are not included may be harmed and exploited for the mere virtue of their exclusion. Aside from this, one other factor that influences the existence of moral exclusion is a person’s natural tendency to differentiate and categorise individuals who possess varying traits from their own (Tajfel & Wilkes, 1963), a tendency which can then lead to neutral characteristics becoming labels that lead to discrimination of different groups. While moral exclusion might only lead to outcomes such as indifference for groups or individuals aside from one’s own, it can occur in degrees that extend up to what could be considered evil (Opotow,…show more content…
Following this examination of factors, it could be said that moral exclusion is a phenomenon that can and does harm individuals and groups significantly. This is made evident in the occurrence of the Holocaust, and how society, influenced by people in positions of power and what the dominant thinking is at the time, could exclude groups from their moral community in order to rationalize doing what they would otherwise deem injustices, especially if the same acts were done to people they could relate to and who fall in the boundaries of their scope of

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