Mead, George Herbert | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
1George Herbert Mead failed to make his mark with a singular account of the self. . 7 See Mead's praise of James's chapter on the self in, “Social Psychology as and rethink sentiment theory and the role of empathy in moral development, as well .. If we date things we always date them from the point of view of our past. Burkitt, Ian () 'The Shifting Concept of the Self', History of the Human Sciences 7(2): Philosophy, Social Theory, and the Thought of George Herbert Mead. Social Self Theory. George Herbert Mead, a sociologist from the late s, is well known for his theory of the social self, which includes the.
He was the second child of Hiram Mead d. George Herbert's older sister, Alice, was born in Inthe family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where Hiram Mead became professor of homiletics at the Oberlin Theological Seminary, a position he held until his death in While at Oberlin, Mead and his best friend, Henry Northrup Castle, became enthusiastic students of literature, poetry, and history, and staunch opponents of supernaturalism.
In literature, Mead was especially interested in Wordsworth, Shelley, Carlyle, Shakespeare, Keats, and Milton; and in history, he concentrated on the writings of Macauley, Buckle, and Motley. Mead published an article on Charles Lamb in the issue of the Oberlin Review Upon graduating from Oberlin inMead took a grade school teaching job, which, however, lasted only four months.
Mead was let go because of the way in which he handled discipline problems: He worked on the project that resulted in the eleven- hundred mile railroad line that ran from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and which connected there with the Canadian Pacific railroad line.
Mead earned his MA degree in philosophy at Harvard University during the academic year. While majoring in philosophy, he also studied psychology, Greek, Latin, German, and French.
Among his philosophy professors were George H. Palmer and Josiah Royce During this time, Mead was most influenced by Royce's Romanticism and idealism. Since Mead was later to become one of the major figures in the American Pragmatist movement, it is interesting that, while at Harvard, he did not study under William James although he lived in James's home as tutor to the James children.
George Herbert Mead - Wikipedia
In the summer ofMead's friend, Henry Castle and his sister, Helen, had traveled to Europe and had settled temporarily in Leipzig, Germany. Later, in the early fall ofMead, too, went to Leipzig in order to pursue a Ph.
During the academic year at the University of Leipzig, Mead became strongly interested in Darwinism and studied with Wilhelm Wundt and G. Stanley Hall two major founders of experimental psychology. On Hall's recommendation, Mead transferred to the University of Berlin in the spring ofwhere he concentrated on the study of physiological psychology and economic theory. While Mead and his friends, the Castles, were staying in Leipzig, a romance between Mead and Helen Castle developed, and they were subsequently married in Berlin on October 1, Mead's work on his Ph.
This was to replace James Hayden Tuftswho was leaving Michigan in order to complete his Ph. Mead took the job and never thereafter resumed his own Ph. He taught both philosophy and psychology. At Michigan, he became acquainted with and influenced by the work of sociologist Charles Horton Cooleypsychologist Alfred Lloyd, and philosopher John Dewey Mead and Dewey became close personal and intellectual friends, finding much common ground in their interests in philosophy and psychology.
In those days, the lines between philosophy and psychology were not sharply drawn, and Mead was to teach and do research in psychology throughout his career mostly social psychology after When the boy grew up, he became a physician and married Irene Tufts James Hayden Tufts' daughtera psychiatrist. Inhaving completed his Ph. The University of Chicago was organized around three main departments: Semitics, chaired by J.
Dewey was recommended for that position by Tufts, and Dewey agreed to move from the University of Michigan to the University of Chicago provided that his friend and colleague, George Herbert Mead, was given a position as assistant professor in the Chicago philosophy department.
Dewey left Chicago for Columbia University inleaving Tufts and Mead as the major spokesmen for the Pragmatist movement in Chicago. Mead spent the rest of his life in Chicago. He was assistant professor of philosophy from ; associate professor from ; and full professor from until his death in During those years, Mead made substantial contributions in both social psychology and philosophy.
Mead's major contribution to the field of social psychology was his attempt to show how the human self arises in the process of social interaction, especially by way of linguistic communication "symbolic interaction". In philosophy, as already mentioned, Mead was one of the major American Pragmatists. As such, he pursued and furthered the Pragmatist program and developed his own distinctive philosophical outlook centered around the concepts of sociality and temporality see below.
Helen Castle Mead died on December 25, George Mead was hit hard by her passing and gradually became ill himself. John Dewey arranged for Mead's appointment as a professor in the philosophy department at Columbia University as of the academic year, but before he could take up that appointment, Mead died in Chicago on April 26, Writings During his more-thanyear career, Mead thought deeply, wrote almost constantly, and published numerous articles and book reviews in philosophy and psychology.
However, he never published a book. After his death, several of his students edited four volumes from stenographic records of his social psychology course at the University of Chicago, from Mead's lecture notes, and from Mead's numerous unpublished papers. Notable among Mead's published papers are the following: Twenty-five of Mead's most notable published articles have been collected in Selected Writings: George Herbert Mead, edited by Andrew J.
Most of Mead's writings and much of the secondary literature thereon are listed in the References and Further Readingbelow. Communication and Mind In Mind, Self and SocietyMead describes how the individual mind and self arises out of the social process.
Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead analyzes experience from the "standpoint of communication as essential to the social order. The "development of the individual's self, and of his self- consciousness within the field of his experience" is preeminently social.
For Mead, the social process is prior to the structures and processes of individual experience. Mind, according to Mead, arises within the social process of communication and cannot be understood apart from that process. The communicational process involves two phases: Mead introduces the idea of the "conversation of gestures" with his famous example of the dog-fight: Dogs approaching each other in hostile attitude carry on such a language of gestures.
They walk around each other, growling and snapping, and waiting for the opportunity to attack. Mind, Self and Society 14 The act of each dog becomes the stimulus to the other dog for his response. There is then a relationship between these two; and as the act is responded to by the other dog, it, in turn, undergoes change. The very fact that the dog is ready to attack another becomes a stimulus to the other dog to change his own position or his own attitude.
He has no sooner done this than the change of attitude in the second dog in turn causes the first dog to change his attitude. We have here a conversation of gestures. They are not, however, gestures in the sense that they are significant. We do not assume that the dog says to himself, "If the animal comes from this direction he is going to spring at my throat and I will turn in such a way.
Mind, Self and Societyemphasis added. In the conversation of gestures, communication takes place without an awareness on the part of the individual of the response that her gesture elicits in others; and since the individual is unaware of the reactions of others to her gestures, she is unable to respond to her own gestures from the standpoint of others.
The individual participant in the conversation of gestures is communicating, but she does not know that she is communicating. The conversation of gestures, that is, is unconscious communication.
It is, however, out of the conversation of gestures that language, or conscious communication, emerges. Mead's theory of communication is evolutionary: In the human world, language supersedes but does not abolish the conversation of gestures and marks the transition from non-significant to significant interaction.
Language, in Mead's view, is communication through significant symbols. A significant symbol is a gesture usually a vocal gesture that calls out in the individual making the gesture the same that is, functionally identical response that is called out in others to whom the gesture is directed Mind, Self and Society Significant communication may also be defined as the comprehension by the individual of the meaning of her gestures.
Mead describes the communicational process as a social act since it necessarily requires at least two individuals in interaction with one another. It is within this act that meaning arises. The act of communication has a triadic structure consisting of the following components: There is no meaning independent of the interactive participation of two or more individuals in the act of communication. Of course, the individual can anticipate the responses of others and can therefore consciously and intentionally make gestures that will bring out appropriate responses in others.
This form of communication is quite different from that which takes place in the conversation of gestures, for in the latter there is no possibility of the conscious structuring and control of the communicational act.
Consciousness of meaning is that which permits the individual to respond to her own gestures as the other responds. A gesture, then, is an action that implies a reaction. The reaction is the meaning of the gesture and points toward the result the "intentionality" of the action initiated by the gesture. Gestures "become significant symbols when they implicitly arouse in an individual making them the same responses which they explicitly arouse, or are supposed [intended] to arouse, in other individuals, the individuals to whom they are addressed" Mind, Self and Society For example, "You ask somebody to bring a visitor a chair.
You arouse the tendency to get the chair in the other, but if he is slow to act, you get the chair yourself. The response to the gesture is the doing of a certain thing, and you arouse that same tendency in yourself" Mind, Self and Society At this stage, the conversation of gestures is transformed into a conversation of significant symbols.
There is a certain ambiguity in Mead's use of the terms "meaning" and "significance. But, if the meaning of a gesture is the response to that gesture, then there is meaning in the non-significant conversation of gestures — the second dog, after all, responds to the gestures of the first dog in the dog- fight and vice-versa.
However, it is the conversation of significant symbols that is the foundation of Mead's theory of mind. Mind, then, is a form of participation in an interpersonal that is, social process; it is the result of taking the attitudes of others toward one's own gestures or conduct in general. Mind, in brief, is the use of significant symbols. The essence of Mead's so-called "social behaviorism" is his view that mind is an emergent out of the interaction of organic individuals in a social matrix.
Mind is not a substance located in some transcendent realm, nor is it merely a series of events that takes place within the human physiological structure. Mead therefore rejects the traditional view of the mind as a substance separate from the body as well as the behavioristic attempt to account for mind solely in terms of physiology or neurology.
Mead agrees with the behaviorists that we can explain mind behaviorally if we deny its existence as a substantial entity and view it instead as a natural function of human organisms. But it is neither possible nor desirable to deny the existence of mind altogether. The physiological organism is a necessary but not sufficient condition of mental behavior Mind, Self and Society Without the peculiar character of the human central nervous system, internalization by the individual of the process of significant communication would not be possible; but without the social process of conversational behavior, there would be no significant symbols for the individual to internalize.
The emergence of mind is contingent upon interaction between the human organism and its social environment; it is through participation in the social act of communication that the individual realizes her physiological and neurological potential for significantly symbolic behavior that is, thought.
Mind, in Mead's terms, is the individualized focus of the communicational process — it is linguistic behavior on the part of the individual. There is, then, no "mind or thought without language;" and language the content of mind "is only a development and product of social interaction" Mind, Self and Society Thus, mind is not reducible to the neurophysiology of the organic individual, but is an emergent in "the dynamic, ongoing social process" that constitutes human experience Mind, Self and Society 7.
Action For Mead, mind arises out of the social act of communication. Mead's concept of the social act is relevant, not only to his theory of mind, but to all facets of his social philosophy. His theory of "mind, self, and society" is, in effect, a philosophy of the act from the standpoint of a social process involving the interaction of many individuals, just as his theory of knowledge and value is a philosophy of the act from the standpoint of the experiencing individual in interaction with an environment.
There are two models of the act in Mead's general philosophy: The relation between the "social process of behavior" and the "social environment" is "analogous" to the relation between the "individual organism" and the "physical-biological environment" Mind, Self and Society The Act-As-Such In his analysis of the act-as-such that is, organic activityMead speaks of the act as determining "the relation between the individual and the environment" The Philosophy of the Act Reality, according to Mead, is a field of situations.
The world, things, and the individual are what they are because of this relation [between the individual and his world]" The Philosophy of the Act It is by way of the act that the relation between the individual and his world is defined and developed. Mead describes the act as developing in four stages: The objects in the environment are, so to speak, created through the activity of the organic individual: Reality is not simply "out there," independent of the organic individual, but is the outcome of the dynamic interrelation of organism and environment.
Perception, according to Mead, is a relation between organism and object. Perception is not, then, something that occurs in the organism, but is an objective relation between the organism and its environment; and the perceptual object is not an entity out there, independent of the organism, but is one pole of the interactive perceptual process The Philosophy of the Act Objects of perception arise within the individual's attempt to solve problems that have emerged in his experience, problems that are, in an important sense, determined by the individual himself.
The character of the individual's environment is predetermined by the individual's sensory capacities. The environment, then, is what it is in relation to a sensuous and selective organic individual; and things, or objects, "are what they are in the relationship between the individual and his environment, and this relationship is that of conduct [i. The Social Act While the social act is analogous to the act-as-such, the above-described model of "individual biological activity" Mind, Self and Society will not suffice as an analysis of social experience.
The "social organism" is not an organic individual, but "a social group of individual organisms" Mind, Self and Society The human individual, then, is a member of a social organism, and his acts must be viewed in the context of social acts that involve other individuals.
Society is not a collection of preexisting atomic individuals as suggested, for example, by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseaubut rather a processual whole within which individuals define themselves through participation in social acts.
The acts of the individual are, according to Mead, aspects of acts that are trans- individual. Thus, the social act is a "dynamic whole," a "complex organic process," within which the individual is situated, and it is within this situation that individual acts are possible and have meaning.
- George Herbert Mead
- A George H. Mead reference page
Mead defines the social act in relation to the social object. The social act is a collective act involving the participation of two or more individuals; and the social object is a collective object having a common meaning for each participant in the act. There are many kinds of social acts, some very simple, some very complex.
These range from the relatively simple interaction of two individuals e. The life of a society consists in the aggregate of such social acts. It is by way of the social act that persons in society create their reality. The objects of the social world common objects such as clothes, furniture, tools, as well as scientific objects such as atoms and electrons are what they are as a result of being defined and utilized within the matrix of specific social acts.
Thus, an animal skin becomes a coat in the experience of people e. Communication through significant symbols is that which renders the intelligent organization of social acts possible. Significant communication, as stated earlier, involves the comprehension of meaning, i.
Significant communication among individuals creates a world of common symbolic meanings within which further and deliberate social acts are possible. The specifically human social act, in other words, is rooted in the act of significant communication and is, in fact, ordered by the conversation of significant symbols.
In addition to its role in the organization of the social act, significant communication is also fundamentally involved in the creation of social objects. For it is by way of significant symbols that humans indicate to one another the object relevant to their collective acts.
For example, suppose that a group of people has decided on a trip to the zoo. One of the group offers to drive the others in his car; and the others respond by following the driver to his vehicle.
The car has thus become an object for all members of the group, and they all make use of it to get to the zoo. Prior to this particular project of going to the zoo, the car did not have the specific significance that it takes on in becoming instrumental in the zoo-trip.
The car was, no doubt, an object in some other social act prior to its incorporation into the zoo-trip; but prior to that incorporation, it was not specifically and explicitly a means of transportation to the zoo. Whatever it was, however, would be determined by its role in some social act e.
George Herbert Mead (1863—1931)
It is perhaps needless to point out that the decision to go to the zoo, as well as the decision to use the car in question as a means of transportation, was made through a conversation involving significant symbols. The significant symbol functions here to indicate "some object or other within the field of social behavior, an object of common interest to all the individuals involved in the given social act thus directed toward or upon that object" Mind, Self and Society The reality that humans experience is, for Mead, very largely socially constructed in a process mediated and facilitated by the use of significant symbols.
This social conception of the self, Mead argues, entails that individual selves are the products of social interaction and not the logical or biological preconditions of that interaction. Mead contrasts his social theory of the self with individualistic theories of the self that is, theories that presuppose the priority of selves to social process. Mead's model of society is an organic model in which individuals are related to the social process as bodily parts are related to bodies.
The self is a reflective process — i. It is perfectly true that the eye can see the foot, but it does not see the body as a whole. We cannot see our backs; we can feel certain portions of them, if we are agile, but we cannot get an experience of our whole body.
There are, of course, experiences which are somewhat vague and difficult of location, but the bodily experiences are for us organized about a self. The foot and hand belong to the self. We can see our feet, especially if we look at them from the wrong end of an opera glass, as strange things which we have difficulty in recognizing as our own.
The parts of the body are quite distinguishable from the self. We can lose parts of the body without any serious invasion of the self. The mere ability to experience different parts of the body is not different from the experience of a table. The table presents a different feel from what the hand does when one hand feels another, but it is an experience of something with which we come definitely into contact.
The body does not experience itself as a whole, in the sense in which the self in some way enters into the experience of the self Mind, Self and Society It is, moreover, this reflexivity of the self that distinguishes human from animal consciousness Mind, Self and Society, fn.
Mead points out two uses of the term "consciousness": It is the second use of the term "consciousness" that is appropriate to the discussion of human consciousness. While there is a form of pre-reflective consciousness that refers to the "bare thereness of the world," it is reflective or self- consciousness that characterizes human awareness. The pre-reflective world is a world in which the self is absent Mind, Self and Society Self-consciousness, then, involves the objectification of the self.
In the mode of self- consciousness, the "individual enters as such into his own experience. How is this objectification of the self possible? The individual, according to Mead, "can enter as an object [to himself] only on the basis of social relations and interactions, only by means of his experiential transactions with other individuals in an organized social environment" Mind, Self and Society Self-consciousness is the result of a process in which the individual takes the attitudes of others toward herself, in which she attempts to view herself from the standpoint of others.
Pragmatism is a wide-ranging philosophical position from which several aspects of Mead's influences can be identified. There are four main tenets of pragmatism see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: First, to pragmatists true reality does not exist "out there" in the real world, it "is actively created as we act in and toward the world.
Lastly, if we want to understand actors, we must base that understanding on what people actually do. Three of these ideas are critical to symbolic interactionism: Thus, to Mead and symbolic interactionists, consciousness is not separated from action and interaction, but is an integral part of both. Symbolic interactionism as a pragmatic philosophy was an antecedent to the philosophy of transactionalism. One of his most influential ideas was the emergence of mind and self from the communication process between organisms, discussed in Mind, Self and Society, also known as social behaviorism.
Rooted intellectually in Hegelian dialectics and process philosophy, Mead, like Dewey, developed a more materialist process philosophy that was based upon human action and specifically communicative action. Human activity is, in a pragmatic sense, the criterion of truth, and through human activity meaning is made. Joint activity, including communicative activity, is the means through which our sense of self is constituted.
The essence of Mead's social behaviorism is that mind is not a substance located in some transcendent realm, nor is it merely a series of events that takes place within the human physiological structure.
George Herbert Mead and the Unity of the Self
This approach opposed the traditional view of the mind as separate from the body. The emergence of mind is contingent upon interaction between the human organism and its social environment; it is through participation in the social act of communication that individuals realize their potential for significantly symbolic behavior, that is, thought. Mind, in Mead's terms, is the individualized focus of the communication process.
It is linguistic behavior on the part of the individual. There is, then, no "mind or thought without language;" and language the content of mind "is only a development and product of social interaction" Mind, Self and Society Thus, mind is not reducible to the neurophysiology of the organic individual, but is emergent in "the dynamic, ongoing social process" that constitutes human experience Mind, Self and Society 7.
Mead's concept of the social act is relevant, not only to his theory of mind, but to all facets of his social philosophy. His theory of "mind, self, and society" is, in effect, a philosophy of the act from the standpoint of a social process involving the interaction of many individuals, just as his theory of knowledge and value is a philosophy of the act from the standpoint of the experiencing individual in interaction with an environment.
The initial phase of an act constitutes a gesture. A gesture is a preparatory movement that enables other individuals to become aware of the intentions of the given organism. The rudimentary situation is a conversation of gestures, in which a gesture on the part of the first individual evokes a preparatory movement on the part of the second, and the gesture of the second organism in turn calls out a response in the first person.
On this level no communication occurs. Neither organism is aware of the effect of its own gestures upon the other; the gestures are nonsignificant. For communication to take place, each organism must have knowledge of how the other individual will respond to his own ongoing act.
Here the gestures are significant symbols. Only when we have significant symbols can we truly have communication. We perceive the world in terms of the "means of living" Mead To perceive food, is to perceive eating. To perceive a house, is to perceive shelter. That is to say, perception is in terms of action. Mead's theory of perception is similar to that of J. Mead the social psychologist argued in tune with Durkheim that the individual is a product of an ongoing, preexisting societyor more specifically, social interaction that is a consequence of a sui generis society.
The self arises when the individual becomes an object to themselves. Mead argued that we are objects first to other people, and secondarily we become objects to ourselves by taking the perspective of other people.
Language enables us to talk about ourselves in the same way as we talk about other people, and thus through language we become other to ourselves.
A central mechanism within the social act, which enables perspective taking, is position exchange. People within a social act often alternate social positions e. In children's games there is repeated position exchange, for example in hide-and-seek, and Mead argued that this is one of the main ways that perspective taking develops.GEORGE MEAD'S THEORY
However, for Mead, unlike John Dewey and J. There are, of course, profound and solid foundations. One does keep his word, meet his obligations; and that provides a basis for self-respect. But those are characters which obtain in most of the members of the community with whom we have to do. We all fall down at certain points, but on the whole we always are people of our words.
We do belong to the community and our self-respect depends on our recognition of ourselves as such self-respecting individuals. But that is not enough for us, since we want to recognize ourselves in our differences from other persons. It is not at all obvious how Mead would address this question, and this is no small matter. In this passage we find references to self-realization, self-respect, self-assertion, and the keeping of promises. But what self is realizing itself, what self is an object or subject of self-respect, what self tries to outshine others, what self knows that failing to keep a promise is wrong?
Is it the same self at any given time? For Mead, individuals can have multiple social selves, which are linked to groups and communities. Is there a unity or continuity to the self, a type of meta-self, that transcends these social selves, and if so, how are we to understand it? After seventy-five years of Mead scholarship maybe it is time to cease trying to determine what Mead really meant by the term self, let alone whether there is a type of meta-self.
But then he is willing to speak of an unconscious self, which is made up of bundles of habits, and we know that habits are closely linked to bodily dispositions. It is this self which we refer to as character. Mead, caught yet again with another self! As a matter of fact, his willingness to use the term self in so many ways argues for leaving the door open to this possibility.
It would be difficult to appreciate his commitment to self-realization and self-assertion, for example, if we were to restrict their relevance to selves that exist only in relationship to specific communities. Mead, for example, has the potential to assist those seeking to reinvigorate and rethink sentiment theory and the role of empathy in moral development, as well as to challenge simulation theorists.
Mead, well over forty years ago, the dominant problem in his mind concerned the nature of consciousness as personal and private. He wished to explore how the so-called personal was connected to the public and common world. Even if it [idealism-M. This is apparent if we contrast Mead with a pre-modern figure, Epictetus. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, which is as the playwright wishes; if the playwright wishes it short, it will be short; if long, then long; if the playwright wishes you to play a beggar, [it is assigned] in order that you good-naturedly play even that role; [and similarly] if [you are assigned to play] a disabled person, an archon, or a lay person.
For this is what is yours: But a question arises about whether success in roles should be understood solely in terms of universal virtues or whether there is something specific that allows a role to be successfully realized, for example, is Socrates or Hercules exhibiting some unique personal attributes, in addition to universal virtues?
As a result, our humanity cannot act as sole standard, as the deflationary model would have it, because it has many influences acting upon it; this multiplicity undermines the deflationary model. And it is role playing all the way down here, for there is no essential, particular, personal self behind a role. However, the fact that there are different roles is problematic for this model because although a particular station should ultimately define us — for example, Socrates as gadfly as opposed to Socrates as father — in our actual lives we are typically called on to perform more than one role.
For Epictetus, it would seem not. For Arendt, agreement with oneself This principle of agreement with oneself is very old; it was actually discovered by Socrates, whose central tenet, as formulated by Plato, is contained in the sentence: Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss the notion that at some level a self must be in agreement with itself, and this is true for Mead, as we shall see.
As for the question about the relationship of roles to each other, Mead would reply that a role is not a fully developed self. The self exists at a more complex level of organization. His whole analysis of the distinction between play and the game is based on this assumption. We can have multiple selves of this sort.
There is an emphasis on the self as an object here, to which one can reflexively relate. He does this in o How are we to understand the relationships between the different generalized others, the different social selves, which individuals presumably possess? Mead was of two minds about the notion of multiple personalities or selves.
On the other hand, it should be seen as pathological when there is no connection between these personalities or selves. There are ongoing debates not only about its etiology, but about whether it should even be viewed as a distinct disorder. We need not concern ourselves with these debates. The question before us is which self breaks into different personalities or selves, according to Mead.
Is it just one of a number of different social selves that fractures? To say that a multiple personality refers to a single fractured social self among a multitude of selves would indeed be a peculiar use of the phrase. It would localize the phenomenon too much. Further, we would then be left with the possibility of multiple multiple personality disorders if more than one of our social selves fractured, that is, if distinct social monads split in their own domains.
According to Dmitri Shalin these lectures were actually given in There is a tendency still further to bring all of these different selves within a single self. This tendency to organize the different selves is essential for normal social conduct.
There are relative degrees of dissociation in all of us. This self which takes in all the different selves is still the self that answers to the others. It is not the primary self but the composite.