4.3.1 Moral Influence on Behaviour

Moral influence on behaviour can be exerted by people who are perceived to have authority, or who can be persuasive, or who are role models.

Moral influence is exerted by those who are perceived to have moral authority, or by persuasion.  Mahatma Gandhi was a shining example of someone who convinced others to follow him in a strategy of peaceful resistance to British rule in India.  He had no formal authority, but nor did he need it.  People respected him, and that was enough.

People differ in what style of moral influence on behaviour they find the most effective:

●  People usually accept what they are told by those who are perceived as holding positions of authority ( Various kinds of authority can exact obedience.

●  A few people can be persuaded by arguments, appealing to their reason (

●  Many might be won over by eliciting an emotional response, appealing to their hopes and fears or by force of personality (

●  Some people become role models (perhaps unintentionally) and others follow their example (

●  Some people claim religious authority to demand obedience, (, although they might really be trying to seize power for themselves and they can choose their own interpretations of religious texts.

This range of techniques can be used in any dimension of power as well as in the moral sphere.  Advertisers use role models or appeals to emotion.  Barristers try to sway juries by engaging their sympathies.  Populist politicians seize on people’s discontent to persuade them to reject the current government.  And politicians wanting to go to war play on the emotions of the public, as in persuading Americans that it was necessary to invade Iraq.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/431a.htm