by Jason Stotts
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the story of the “cannibal cop” (Gilberto Valle) who fantasized about killing and eating women in New York. Today he was convicted of plotting to kidnap a woman and improper use of a police database and sentenced for it.
Now, usually I wouldn’t bring this kind of story up on Erosophia, but this case is special. All too many people are focussing on the fact that this man had a fantasy about killing and eating women and discussing how this kind of fantasy is immoral. Moreover, some people are questioning the morality of any kind of fantasy and arguing the christian position that to think a thing is morally the same as doing it, which is obviously false. You can check out the essay I just put up about Fantasy, but there are a couple of points I want to make about this case in particular.
No matter how morally heinous an action may be if committed in real life, there is nothing morally wrong with fantasizing about it. Now, someone may object that even if the fantasizing is not morally wrong, fantasizing about actions that would be morally wrong signals that the fantasizer is an immoral person. This is possible, but the act of fantasizing is still not immoral. Moreover, this position misunderstands the way that a lot of people use fantasy. Many people feel sexually repressed in real life and use fantasy to break out of their sexual blocks. The process of this often is taken to extremes in order to overcome the sexual guilt and shame that is holding them back. Other people fantasize about things that would otherwise be immoral because they are aroused by the sense of violation and transgression that comes from it: the immoral act fantasized is merely a means to their real end. Now, there is one important exception where fantasy may become immoral. If fantasizing about a thing would lead a person to develop a disposition for action in the real world and that action would be immoral, then fantasizing about that thing to the point of creating the disposition would be immoral. But, importantly, it is only because it leads to an immoral action in the real world that it is immoral, it is nothing about the fantasy itself.
So, there is nothing wrong with fantasizing, even about immoral things. However, when the line between fantasy and reality is breached, as is the case with the cannibal cop who started to take concrete steps in the world to achieve the immoral actions of kidnapping and murder, then we must worry about immorality.