Philosophy, Social Theory, and the Thought of George Herbert Mead
The reading which I have read is titled “The Self” by George Herbert Mead. I will first summarize the reading, and then illustra. After more than seventy-five years of scholarship on Mead's notion of the self, as a Source of and a Resource for European Educational Theory and Practice. Essays If we date things we always date them from the point of view of our past. George Herbert Mead (February 27, – April 26, ) was an American philosopher, Dewey's influence led Mead into educational theory, but his thinking soon diverged from The first editorial efforts to change this situation date from the s. Much of Mead's work focused on the development of the self and the.
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.Socialization and Mead's Theory of Self
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.
However, for Mead, unlike John Dewey and J. Gibsonthe key is not simply human action, but rather social action. In humans the "manipulatory phase of the act" is socially mediated, that is to say, in acting towards objects humans simultaneously take the perspectives of others towards that object.
This is what Mead means by "the social act" as opposed to simply "the act" the latter being a Deweyan concept. Non-human animals also manipulate objects, but that is a non-social manipulation, they do not take the perspective of other organisms toward the object.
George Herbert Mead
Humans on the other hand, take the perspective of other actors towards objects, and this is what enables complex human society and subtle social coordination. In the social act of economic exchange, for example, both buyer and seller must take each other's perspectives towards the object being exchanged.
The seller must recognize the value for the buyer, while the buyer must recognize the desirability of money for the seller. Only with this mutual perspective taking can the economic exchange occur Mead was influenced on this point by Adam Smith. Nature of the self[ edit ] A final piece of Mead's social theory is the mind as the individual importation of the social process. As previously discussed, Mead presented the self and the mind in terms of a social process. As gestures are taken in by the individual organism, the individual organism also takes in the collective attitudes of others, in the form of gestures, and reacts accordingly with other organized attitudes.
The "Me" is the social self and the "I" is the response to the "Me. The "I" is the individual's impulses. The "I" is self as subject; the "me" is self as object.
The "I" is the knower, the "me" is the known. The mind, or stream of thought, is the self-reflective movements of the interaction between the "I" and the "me. For Mead the thinking process is the internalized dialogue between the "I" and the "me.
Understood as a combination of the 'I' and the 'me'Mead's self proves to be noticeably entwined within a sociological existence. For Mead, existence in community comes before individual consciousness. First one must participate in the different social positions within society and only subsequently can one use that experience to take the perspective of others and thus become self-conscious.
Philosophy of science[ edit ] Mead is a major American philosopher by virtue of being, along with John DeweyCharles Peirce and William Jamesone of the founders of pragmatism. He also made significant contributions to the philosophies of nature, science, and history, to philosophical anthropologyand to process philosophy.
Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead considered Mead a thinker of the first rank. He is a classic example of a social theorist whose work does not fit easily within conventional disciplinary boundaries. As far as his work on the philosophy of science, Mead sought to find the psychological origin of science in the efforts of individuals to attain power over their environment.
The notion of a physical object arises out of manipulatory experience. There is a social relation to inanimate objects, for the organism takes the role of things that it manipulates directly, or that it manipulates indirectly in perception. For example, in taking introjecting or imitating the resistant role of a solid object, an individual obtains cognition of what is "inside" nonliving things.
Historically, the concept of the physical object arose from an animistic conception of the universe. Contact experience includes experiences of position, balance, and support, and these are used by the organism when it creates its conceptions of the physical world.
Our scientific concepts of space, time, and mass are abstracted from manipulatory experience. Such concepts as that of the electron are also derived from manipulation. In developing a science we construct hypothetical objects in order to assist ourselves in controlling nature.
The conception of the present as a distinct unit of experience, rather than as a process of becoming and disappearing, is a scientific fiction devised to facilitate exact measurement.
In the scientific worldview immediate experience is replaced by theoretical constructs. The ultimate in experience, however, is the manipulation and contact at the completion of an act. For instance, he first plays the role of policeman and then the role of thief while playing "Cops and Robbers," and plays the role of doctor and patient when playing "Doctor. However, it is a limited self because the child can only take the role of distinct and separate others, they still lack a more general and organized sense of themselves.
Whereas in the play stage the child takes on the role of distinct others, in the game stage the child must take the role of everyone else involved in the game. Furthermore, these roles must have a definite relationship to one another. To illustrate the game stage, Mead gives his famous example of a baseball game: But in a game where a number of individuals are involved, then the child taking one role must be ready to take the role of everyone else. If he gets in a ball nine he must have the responses of each position involved in his own position.
George Herbert Mead: Mind Self and Society: Section The Self and the Organism
He must know what everyone else is going to do in order to carry out his own play. He has to take all of these roles. They do not all have to be present in consciousness at the same time, but at some moments he has to have three or four individuals present in his own attitude, such as the one who is going to throw the ball, the one who is going to catch it and so on. These responses must be, in some degree, present in his own make-up.
In the game, then, there is a set of responses of such others so organized that the attitude of one calls out the appropriate attitudes of the other. Children begin to become able to function in organized groups and most importantly, to determine what they will do within a specific group.
Through understanding "the generalized other" the individual understands what kind of behavior is expected, appropriate and so on, in different social settings. How does perspective taking occur according to Mead? It can be enticed out of the body of one's enemy and perhaps killed. It is represented in infancy by the imaginary playmates which children set up, and through which they come to control their experiences in their play.
The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure, and it arises in social experience. After a self has arisen, it in a certain sense provides for itself its social experiences, and so we can conceive of an absolutely solitary self.
But it is impossible to conceive of a self arising outside of social experience. When it has arisen we can think of a person in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, but who still has himself as a companion, and is able to think and to converse with himself as he had communicated with others.
That process to which I have just referred, of responding to one's self as another responds to it, taking part in one's own conversation with others, being aware of what one is saying and using that awareness of what one is saying to determine what one is going to say thereafter-that is a process with which we are all familiar. We are continually following up our own address to other persons by an understanding of what we are saying, and using that understanding in the direction of our continued speech.
We are finding out what we are going to say, what we are going to do, by saying and doing, and in the process we are continually controlling the process itself. In the conversation of gestures what we say calls out a certain response in another and that in turn changes our own action, so that we shift from what we started to do because of the reply the other makes. The conversation of gestures is the beginning of communication.
The individual comes to carry on a conversation of gestures with himself. He says something, and that calls out a certain reply in himself which makes him change what he was going to say. One starts to say something, we will presume an unpleasant something, but when he starts to say it he realizes it is cruel. The effect on himself of what he is saying checks him; there is here a conversation of gestures between the individual and himself.
We mean by significant speech that the action is one that affects the individual himself, and that the effect upon the individual himself is part of the intelligent carrying-out of the conversation with others. Now we, so to speak, amputate that social phase and dispense with it for the time being, so that one is talking to one's self as one would talk to another person. One inevitably seeks an audience, has to pour himself out to somebody.
In reflective intelligence one thinks to act, and to act solely so that this action remains a part of a social process. Thinking becomes preparatory to social action. The very process of thinking is, of course, simply an inner conversation that goes on, but it is a conversation of gestures which in its completion implies the expression of that which one thinks to an audience. One separates the significance of what he is saying to others from the actual speech and gets it ready before saying it.
He thinks it out, and perhaps writes it in the form of a book; but it is still a part of social intercourse in which one is addressing other persons and at the same time addressing one's self, and in which one controls the address to other persons by the response made to one's own gesture. That the person should be responding to himself is necessary to the self, and it is this sort of social conduct which provides behavior within which that self appears. I know of no other form of behavior than the linguistic in which the individual is an object to himself, and, so far as I can see, the individual is not a self in the reflexive sense unless he is an object to himself.
George Herbert Mead and the Unity of the Self
It is this fact that gives a critical importance to communication, since this is a type of behavior in which the individual does so respond to himself.
We realize in everyday conduct and experience that an individual does not mean a great deal of what he is doing and saying. We frequently say that such an individual is not himself.
We come away from an interview with a realization that we have left out important things, that there are parts of the self that did not get into what was said. What determines the amount of the self that gets into communication is the social experience itself.
Of course, a good deal of the self does not need to get expression. We carry on a whole series of different relationships to different people. We are one thing to one man and another thing to another. There are parts of the self which exist only for the self in relationship to itself.
We divide ourselves up in all sorts of different selves with reference to our acquaintances. We discuss politics with one and religion with another.
There are all sorts of different selves answering to all sorts of different social reactions. It is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self; it is not there as a self apart from this type of experience.
A multiple personality is in a certain sense normal, as I have just pointed out. There is usually an organization of the whole self with reference to the community to which we belong, and the situation in which we find ourselves. What the society is, whether we are living with people of the present, people of our own imaginations, people of the past, varies, of course, with different individuals. Normally, within the sort of community as a whole to which we belong, there is a unified self, but that may be broken up.
To a person who is somewhat unstable nervously and in whom there is a line of cleavage, certain activities become impossible, and that set of activities may separate and evolve another self. Two separate "Me's" and "I's," two different selves, result, and that is the condition under which there is a tendency to break up the personality.
There is an account of a professor of education who disappeared, was lost to the community, and later turned up in a logging camp in the West. He freed himself of his occupation and turned to the woods where he felt, if you like, more at home.
The pathological side of it was the forgetting, the leaving out of the rest of the self. This result involved getting rid of certain bodily memories which would identify the individual to himself. We often recognize the lines of cleavage that run through us. We would be glad to forget certain things, get rid of things the self is bound up with in past experiences.
What we have here is a situation in which there can be different selves, and it is dependent upon the set of social reactions that is involved as to which self we are going to be. If we can forget everything involved in one set of activities, obviously we relinquish that part of the self. Take a person who is unstable, get him occupied by speech, and at the same time get his eye on something you are writing so that he is carrying on two separate lines of communication, and if you go about it in the right way you can get those two currents going so that they do not run into each other.
You can get two entirely different sets of activities going on. You can bring about in that way the dissociation of a person's self. It is a process of setting up two sorts of communication which separate the behavior of the individual. For one individual it is this thing said and heard, and for the other individual there exists only that which he sees written. You must, of course, keep one experience out of the field of the other. Dissociations are apt to take place when an event leads to emotional upheavals.
That which is separated goes on in its own way. The unity and structure of the complete self reflects the unity and structure of the social process as a whole; and each of the elementary selves of which it is composed reflects the unity and structure of one of the various aspects of that process in which the individual is implicated. In other words, the various elementary selves which constitute, or are organized into, a complete self are the various aspects of the structure of that complete self answering to the various aspects of the structure of the social process as a whole; the structure of the complete self is thus a reflection of the complete social process.
The organization and unification of a social group is identical with the organization and unification of any one of the selves arising within the social process in which that group is engaged, or which it is carrying on.
- A George H. Mead source page
Man's behavior is such in his social group that he is able to become an object to himself, a fact which constitutes him a more advanced product of evolutionary development than are the lower animals. Fundamentally it is this social fact-and not his alleged possession of a soul or mind with which he, as an individual, has been mysteriously and supernaturally endowed, and with which the lower animals have not been endowed-that differentiates him from them.
These physiological bases of social behavior-which have their ultimate scat or locus in the lower part of the individual's central nervous system-are the bases of such behavior, precisely because they in themselves are also social; that is, because they consist in drives or instincts or behavior tendencies, on the part of the given individual, which he cannot carry out or give overt expression and satisfaction to without the cooperative aid of one or more other individuals.
The physiological processes of behavior of which they are the mechanisms are processes which necessarily involve more than one individual, processes in which other individuals besides the given individual are perforce implicated. Examples of the fundamental social relations to which these physiological bases of social behavior give rise are those between the sexes expressing the reproductive instinctbetween parent and child expressing the parental instinctand between neighbors expressing the gregarious instinct.
These relatively simple and rudimentary physiological mechanisms or tendencies of individual human behavior, besides constituting the physiological bases of all human social behavior, are also the fundamental biological materials of human nature; so that when we refer to human nature, we are referring to something which is essentially social. But while the pattern of the individual act may be said to be in these cases social, it is only so in so far as the organism seeks for the stimuli in the attitudes and characters of other forms for the completion of its own responses, and by its behavior tends to maintain the other as a part of its own environment.
The actual behavior of the other or the others is not initiated in the individual form as a part of its own pattern of behavior MS. It is generally recognized that the specifically social expressions of intelligence, or the exercise of what is often called "social intelligence," depend upon the given individual's ability to take the roles of, or "put himself in the place of," the other individuals implicated with him in given social situations; and upon his consequent sensitivity to their attitudes toward himself and toward one another.
These specifically social expressions of intelligence, of course, acquire unique significance in terms of our view that the whole nature of intelligence is social to the very core-that this putting of one's self in the places of others, this taking by one's self of their roles or attitudes, is not merely one of the various aspects or expressions of intelligence or of intelligent behavior, but is the very essence of its character.