The existence of other minds, or rather our state of mind in-regards to said minds, is perhaps the largest source of psychological suffering on this planet. Anxiety, depression, shame, desire, pangs of rejection, all stemming from the perceived ontology of mind that is incorrect. That is an ontology where the attitudes and projections of other minds towards us is what constitutes our being.
Human beings psychologically, regardless of whether this is true metaphysically, are dualists. That is everything for them is either “stuff” (things to be used for utility) or other minds capable of passing judgement and is both a subject and an object. Whether or not it is ethical to view animals as mere “objects” in the ethical sense (that is that which is not an agent of moral concern, the view that is taken if you view reason or high-levels of sentience as a prerequisite to moral worth) human beings certainly do this in-regards to perception and emotion. People aren’t concerned about what their dog thinks of them and do not feel personally violated when attacked by a bear the same way they often feel when assaulted by their fellow man. Whether they would feel the same indignation and psychological disturbances if injured or even simply accosted or rejected by an artificial intelligence (a robot, or thinking machine) is pure speculation. But there does seem to be something to the nature of mind (or at-least the human mind) in relation to other minds. The idea of judgment or disapproval of other beings is terrifying to others, and concern for our reputation of others takes up more people’s time than fear of bodily pain or death. There seems to be something to Sartre’s claim “Hell is other people.”
This however, could potentially not be a dissoluble or permanent aspect of the human character or mind. There are some who seem to be completely carefree in how others perceive or act towards them, and everyone (or most) are carefree in their relations to some and their thoughts and attitudes towards him or her. Some have mild social anxiety when speaking towards people they do not know, while others have the same state of mind in relation to others they know intimately or know casually. It does seem to be though that there is more potential for fear or dread in others we know though since there judgments of us seem (regardless of whether they are) more meaningful in-regards to who we are as individuals. This defining ourselves through other minds is the main source of anxiety and perturbed psychological states ignoring materialist or biochemical explanations of suffering of the mind through states of the brain.
This is why it is of paramount importance that to the extent this can be inculcated in youth to bring them up to implicitly define themselves by their actions and internal traits rather than how they are esteemed and treated by others. Unfortunately, there are some mechanisms of evolutionary psychology that seem innate in us, and it seems likely that for most these mechanisms of the psyche’ can only be mitigated against rather than cured or removed. People will largely always yearn for some form of reaction from others, whether it be approbation, admiration or affection. Though this yearning is a fundamentally bad state of affairs, it can be and is acted upon in psychologically healthy ways that can even bear fruit. Much like Freud thought artistic creativity was “libidinal energy” redirected for productivity, so Man’s desire for approval though psychologically destructive or harmful can be a motivating factor for good works. Though the purest of motives is regard for the “thing-in-itself” for its own sake – the sufferer for the sake that they are suffering without regard to one’s own relation to them or others – human beings are fundamentally egotistical (or most are most of the time) and can only occasionally be seen to act on genuine compassion and sympathy rather than to play the role of a moral actor because of the presence of watching eyes and judging minds.
It seems then, assuming that this cannot change, that just as Freud thought that some repression of our libidinal impulses were necessary for civilization to continue and prosper (in fact for him civilization was little more than were our libidinal impulses are restricted and redirected in formation of our individual Egos and Super Egos) it seems that some attachment to other’s judgment of others is necessary for good works. However, the existence of fear of judgment of others will produce no fruit if the judgments of the populous are not virtuous. That is to say, many people much of the time make judgments, but they are either superficial or vicious (counter-intuitive to virtue). They judge others based on their appearance, something that following the yearning of acceptance of will certainly produce no virtue or good works, or even worse, as someone like Nietzsche may point out, there are those who are envious or contemptuous of virtue whether it be the calm or cheerful demeanor, intelligence, generosity, wit or good fortunes and will act in negative judgment towards the person for that which should be encouraged. This is one of the main reasons why children must be taught proper morals and values. Not only in the hopes that they embody virtue and live good and decent lives, but so that they highly esteem and praise others for the virtue seen in them, rather than tacitly encourage shallowness and mediocrity in associating with those who pursue vices over virtue.
This favoring vice and mediocrity over virtue and excellence is potentially largely societal and the outgrowth of social conditions stemming from that which is only indirectly related, but it could also be in some to some degree innate. The Greek Philosophers all worshipped virtue and thought that it alone (asides from Epicurus) as sufficient and necessary (though Aristotle thought that other things were necessary) for a good life. But did their Greek contemporaries hold the same view? Were they as enamored with virtue and goodness of character and mind as those we remember? If the writings of said philosopher is to be what sways us it appears not. Most philosophers, particularly the Ancient Greeks (e.g. Plato, Cynics, Stoics, Epicurus, etc.) talk of the common Man’s obsession with sensual desires and satisfaction of the appetites rather than the stimulation and growth of virtue. Aristotle in his writings on friendship writes that there are three kinds, but the best and truest form of friendship (love of friend for their own sake and the shared virtue seen in each other) is rare largely because there are few good people in this world.
This pessimism about human nature may or may not be founded. Considering we will never escape the social influence of society it seems impossible to see “human nature” pure and without the influence of the life history of the child playing out and molding their mental and physical constitution to the extent that it can. It does seem somewhat possible to glimpse at likely common traits or distinct personality types that go through the ages via the study of history and persisting themes despite the changing of scenery. This is what Schopenhauer speaks of when he talks of the allegorical truth behind Hinduism: the actors change through the ages, but the play on this stage of a world remains largely the same – the same lives living throughout the centuries, simply in different forms and with different names. In one age the hero is Heracles, the next it is Superman, but they are largely the same soul or essence inhabiting different bodies. The wise seeing through the particulars and witnessing the general traits and themes of this existence and taking pleasure in the spectacle of it all; the common Man seeing little more than his or her life and what he or she believes to be the sources of pain and pleasure in it.
Despite its impossibility the desired life both for self and others would be complete psychological disregard for others minds (having others opinions and attitudes towards one’s self be only a physical fact like a leaf on a tree or the presence of a bear, with no lingering or additional psychological aspects) but complete and total regard for them ethically – that is to say, concern for the state and well-being of other minds for their sake, rather than the affect they have on our own insecure psyche’. If this could be done, it would be both the utter annihilation of Egoism and insecurity, as well as the propagation of compassion and moral consideration of other beings – seemingly ending nearly all forms of psychological and physical suffering.
Perhaps this is why in all conceptions of paradise, whether earthly or supernatural, all members in this utopian world are both good and content and there are no psychological or societal worries or cares. The two being intrinsically connected, the state of our minds having direct effect on the external state of our societies and vice versa. For Schopenhauer was right in saying that Man brings most of his suffering upon himself; humanity through our nature and upbringing do much to add to our worries and little to alleviate them. We concern ourselves with the estimation of ourselves through others and have little concern for others which is a far-better state of mind to be in personally – through our selfishness and pettiness we suffer and fail to achieve what we desire (for the only things humans truly personally desire is contentment and fulfillment – all individual things are merely window dressing or believed means to the end of happiness) and could have attained through virtue. We will achieve a good world only to the extent that virtue is acted upon, and virtue will be acted upon only to the extent that people desire the good life over the one of sensuality and reputation or fame.
Many if not most philosophers have spoken of this wisdom in one form of another – in Plato it is focusing on the Forms rather than this world of appearance, in Augustine it is the City of God over the City of Man, in Kant it is the Kingdom of Ends where all are respected for an End in Themselves rather than merely how they relate to or can service us, in Marx and the Anarchists it is the stateless utopia where all are free to own their own labor, pursue their passions and freely associate with others without having the material restrictions and societal conditionings of class and hierarchy to pull them from virtue and towards passive obedience and moral resignation. The wise have always told us these timeless truths of virtue and self, and the common have always lived much like the Cynics describe. We live however in the Catch-22 of all time. To see if things could change we would need the change to already happen. To see if paradise of body and soul is achievable we would first need said paradise to raise the children to live in this world of universal virtue, good will, and consistent cooperation to solve material or societal concerns as they arise or persist.
Degrees of improvement are possible, but it seems as if this stage will remain forever the same – the same souls of virtue and viciousness, of yearning, passion, charity and immorality will consist more or less the same but in different forms until the sensuality and apathy of Man destroys itself. Forever eliminating the possibility of the normative merging with the descriptive (the ideal becoming reality) except in the sense it is preferable that this play be finally cancelled and darkness and silence to be on the stage once again.