So recently, one of my friends has been really stressed and vividly dreaming. Slowly, they have gotten more and more disturbing to the point where she is killing people in her dreams. She would never dream of harming anyone in real life (I don’t think) but it does pose an interesting question; do we need to be held accountable for the actions we perform in our dreams?
Now, before she starts screaming at me, I want to say I am not condemning people to hell for killing someone in their dreams; even for this blog it seems a tad too rediculous. Clearly, we have the intuition that there is no moral value either way in what we dream. So how can we use this moral intuition to examine some arguments surrounding the morality of such dreaming?
Well, utilitarianism would claim that you killing people in your dreams was a good or bad thing depending on the amount of pain or pleasure the dream brought you. That is to say that because the dream mentally disturbed my friend it caused her suffering so is a morally bad action. But this position alone raises some difficulties and some questions. If you have control of the dream and you are causing suffering to yourself then does that make you a morally corrupt individual. Not only do you have to go through the suffering of murduring someone in your dream, but you also suffer from knowing your morally corrupt because you cause suffering. This argument seems to go in circles and does provoke the question – can you really be suffuring if you choose to suffer?
However, this assumes that you have control of your dreams, but do you really? You have no conscious consent to the dream but clearly your sub-conscious does. Can this still really count as consent if part of you wills not to murder someone in your dreams. If you don’t consent to your dream, then can you really be held accountable for a morally wrong action in utilitarianism?
And this is all based on the assumption that murdering someone in our dreams is wrong because it causes us suffering. What happens if we really hate the person we murder in our dreams and it helps us let go of some of the stress? No one suffers as a result of this (as the person you murder is in your head ) and it causes you pleasure. So under utilitarianism, murdering someone in your dreams would be a good thing. Doesn’t it seem counterintuitive to reward murdering someone in your dreams as a morally good action? We shouldn’t consider murdering someone in our sleep is a bad action, but does that mean we should necessarily class it as a good action?
Another way we can look at this is via a biblical angle. The majority of Christians believe that God knows what we are thinking when we carry out an action. Therefore, it is easy for him to see whether our motivation is right or wrong behind an action. This leads to us asking whether thinking of muder and committing it in our dreams is just as bad as actually killing someone in terms of our own morality.
For many Christians, how we think and feel about an issue makes us just as guilty as those who commit the issue. For example, if someone thinks about robbing a bank, then they are as equally guilty as someone who actually goes and robs the bank. Therefore, when we dream we are murdering someone (and if we are consenting to the dream) then my friend is just as bad as a real-life murderer.
This idea is absolutely ludicrous. How could someone who hasn’t killed anyone in the external work be as bad as someone who has? And if we have no full consent to our dreams, how is it fair that we are judged for viewing such dreams? It can’t possibly be that this stance is right.
However, the above argument only counts if the human we kill in our dream actually represents a human. What if our dreams are metaphorical and stand for something else? What if the person that you murder is actually a personification of your stress or depression or some other major issue in your life? This changes the argument, because you are no longer murdering a valued human being, but you are effectively dealing with your own emotions.
If this is the case, then we could argue that actually God would approve of you murdering your anxiety as it develops your soul. You are making yourself a better person via your mind finding ways of “killing your anxiety” so you can fulfill your own potential. Therefore, God would view this as good as your are becoming more perfect and achieving the potential of your humanity. However, it does take us back to the counterintuitive idea of do you really want to be murdering your anxiety if it looks like a human being? And do you want to be rewarded for it?
In my opinion, the arguments above have no weighting at all due to one detail; there is no action occurring at all. For an action to occur, it needs to happen in the external world where space and time allows for events to unfold. You cannot commit an action in your dreams as it does not partake in the external world. If there is no action committed, then you cannot award the event moral worth, which matches our natural intuition.
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