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SmashTheState's avatar

Are dreams subject to moral law?

Asked by SmashTheState (9618 points ) May 31st, 2010

In law, there is a recognition that only intent needs to be present for a crime to take place. For example, a person is guilty of the crime of conspiracy if plans are discussed and made to commit a crime, even if that crime is not subsequently committed. Likewise, there have been cases in which a person has ordered an assassination from what they thought was a hitman, only to discover it was an undercover police officer. Even though no murder took place—or even could take place—the perpetrators have been found guilty of attempted murder in court.

This being the case, are we responsible for our actions in our dreams? While we’re dreaming, it certainly seems real to us. Since no one can read our minds (yet) there is no way to prosecute a person for what she or he does in a dream, but do we bear a moral burden for the wrongs we commit while dreaming?

On a theological level, consider what Yeshua had to say on the subject of adultery:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” [Matthew 5:27–28]

In other words, on a moral plane, one is just as guilty for even thinking of it, even if one doesn’t actually perpetrate the act. This seems to argue that what we do in our dreams, while we are in the belief that it’s real, carries with it all the same moral rules as our everyday waking life.

I have read of at least one culture where it is customary to apologize to someone one had wronged in a dream, just as if it had actually happened. Once again, this seems to argue that we bear a moral burden in our dreams.

What do you think?

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33 Answers

prescottman2008's avatar

Dreams are not “thinking” because they are formed in an unconscious state. However dreams are fed by the conscious mind so you should be careful what you fill your brain with or it may come out in a dream.

Fyrius's avatar

Do you actually make decisions in a dream, though? I think I’m more like a passive spectator in my dreams, not in control of what I seem to do.

At any rate I’m pretty sure the rational parts of your brain are inactive when you’re dreaming, which is why you don’t notice when things make no sense at all except after you’ve woken up. And then you think “yeah… wait, what? He was driving a car indoors?”
That means it’s possible to make decisions in a dream that you’d never make if you were awake, if only because you’re using only part of your consciousness. So whatever horrible things you might do in a dream are no indication of whether you’d actually do things like that.

I’m also a proponent of not listening to scripture and other old traditions when it comes to morality. Such things only argue that at some point, some people thought we bear a moral burden in our dreams. Which has no more weight than the fact that there have also existed people who don’t worry about things like that.

filmfann's avatar

The bigger picture here is the point that no man is without sin. We all fall short.

Specifically to your question, I often realize I am dreaming, and begin to control the dream (lucid dreaming). I enjoy myself by flying, talking to people long dead, but I try to avoid the carnal pleasures, since that is probably a sin.

gorillapaws's avatar

@filmfann I’m sorry but if God wants to judge me for hooking up with a harem of beautiful women in my dreams, then I’d probably rather spend eternity hanging out with someone else…

SmashTheState's avatar

@Fyrius I would argue that your actions in dreams probably represent a more accurate reflection of your nature than your daily activities, which are constrained by the threat of physical retaliation.

Fyrius's avatar

@filmfann
Good point. In lucid dreams you can choose what you do, so there you can have responsibility.

@SmashTheState
In daydreams, yeah, probably. In night-dreams, not really, since only part of you is active.
Except when you go lucid.

Maybe we should change the subject to daydreams and lucid dreams only? It seems the complications of night dreaming only distract from what you actually want to talk about.

In the case of controlled dreams like that, I’d say those are subject to moral laws, but to different ones. There are no physical consequences here, so you only have to worry about things that are wrong because you shouldn’t be thinking these things.
For example I’d say stealing in a dream is okay, or vandalism, or not separating your garbage, or having a food fight and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.

VanderwallsForce's avatar

What or whose morals are you comparing them to? “morals” vary culture to culture.

gorillapaws's avatar

@VanderwallsForce Sorry but moral relativism is considered to be a pretty lousy theory by the philosophical community. Mainly because you can’t make statements such as committing genocide, or throwing acid in women’s faces is morally wrong (since it might be ok in their “culture”). If these kinds of acts are ultimately morally permissible, what then is the purpose of even having a moral code?

lloydbird's avatar

Dreams are involuntary.

Fyrius's avatar

@gorillapaws
I see a massive digression coming here.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Fyrius Exactly the opposite! We know that daydreams aren’t real, and hence we can enjoy our thoughts in the secure knowledge that they aren’t really happening. On the other hand, in a dream we often believe that what’s occuring is all too real.

@lloydbird Consider the example I gave of Yeshua’s comment about adultery. One could argue that the lust a man feels when he sees a sexy woman is involuntary, yet Yeshua states that a man who has such thoughts is guilty in his heart of adultery just as if he had actually done so. According to this reasoning, at least, dreaming bears no less moral burden for being “involuntary.”

VanderwallsForce's avatar

So are we imposing the morals
we value? I am not debating, I am asking.

Seek's avatar

Personally, I’d rather someone slaughter me in their dreams and say “My, wasn’t that a nice stress reliever!”, then to slaughter me in their dreams, feel guilty, insert some religious dogma, let it stew for a while, and eventually kill me for real.

VanderwallsForce's avatar

Does everyone in the “philosophical community” have the same moral code? How do you know?

lloydbird's avatar

@SmashTheState But what about wilful intent?

ChocolateReigns's avatar

Dreams are influenced by what we think about while we are awake. If you lived recklessly and lived like you were “above the law”, you would do the same in dreams. If you behaved well and were a law-abiding citizen, you would do the same in dreams. So I think yes, dreams are slightly subject to moral law.

Fyrius's avatar

@SmashTheState
But then it would seem that we can’t simultaneously believe the dream is real, and make our own decisions. You can’t go lucid and take control, without realising it’s a dream.

I also feel I should tell you that not everyone in this thread gives a damn about Yeshua. You can continue to refer to it if you want, but to many people scripture has no weight whatsoever.
I’m one of them. I believe morality has nothing to do with scripture, and scripture has nothing to do with morality.

Seek's avatar

@ChocolateReigns – so when I have a dream about eating Ghandi, I’m really a peace-hating cannibal?

Real dream, by the way.

Fyrius's avatar

Oh crap, @Seek_Kolinahr is a peace-hating cannibal.

janbb's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr how did he taste?

Seek's avatar

Well, since you ask, I later threw him up on Superman. All over those pretty red boots. But we were totally drunk. So it’s okay.

Jeruba's avatar

Well, @Seek_Kolinahr, if you ate Gandhi in the same spirit that some people take a wafer and wine or bread and grapejuice on a Sunday morning, I would say that might make you a peace-loving worshiper.

Seek's avatar

Oh, no. I was hammered and we were pretending to be zombies. It was a crazy dream.

MissA's avatar

What about that spaghetti dinner I consumed a little too late at night…didn’t set to well on my tummy?

gorillapaws's avatar

@VanderwallsForce “Does everyone in the ‘philosophical community’ have the same moral code?”

I realize we’re veering off topic here, but just to clarify, there are lots of moral theories that are heavily debated and argued for among philosophers, but pretty much all of them agree that moral relativism is a bad theory.

Please note that just because moral relativism doesn’t work well as a theory, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to understand and respect other cultures, just that for morality to make any sense at all as a concept, you have to be able to make cross-cultural statements such as slavery is wrong, rape is wrong etc.

MissA's avatar

Made for a wild romantic dream!

ChocolateReigns's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I said dreams are influenced by what we think about when we’re awake. Not that they mean anything or you should read anything into them. Dreaming about eating Ghandi could have been the effect of thinking about a really good meal you ate, something having to do with Ghandi, and watching the Superman movie. Who knows.

deadleaf's avatar

IMO, Your subjectivity of dream interpretation is based on the truth in which you agree with upon yourself and your morals.

Jeruba's avatar

Gandhi

Pandora's avatar

If it worked that way, than what would you say about a nightmare. Nobody wants them to happen and yet they do. I once dreamt that my whole family fell off a cliff. In not one ounce in my body, did I want that ever to happen. Heck, even I fell, although I lived. LOL. But I was only 9. Would that mean I have the thoughts of a killer or homicide on my mind? I couldn’t even kill a bug when concious.
Dreams are sometime just remnants of thoughts and sites of people and events seen during the day. It is why some are just wierd. What if you saw a movie where someone had an affair and you dream of having an affair. Is it really what you desire to do or are you simply living out the movie you saw in your mind, trying to make sense of something you find doesn’t make sense.
Where as contemplating someones death and hiring someone definetly means you want to do that.
All I got to say if one was held morally responsible for their dreams than there are a lot of adulterous males out there and they all start at 14. That is why a lot of guys wake up active in the morning. And they are not all dreaming about their girl.

Seek's avatar

Whoops, @Jeruba I just realised that. Would it redeem me if I said I was just reading about a parasite that lives in Ghana?

Jeruba's avatar

In Gujarati (and Hindi and Sanskrit), the dh sound is represented by a single character:So there’s no other way to spell it.

No redeeming necessary. Remembering for the future is good enough.

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