Review of Mind Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist
Jacob Robert Kantor
MIND, SELF, AND SOCIETY FROM THE STANDPOINT OF A SOCIAL BEHAVIORIST. By George H. Mead. Edited, with Introduction, by Charles W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934. Pp. xxxviii+ 401. $5.00.
So popular was Mead's course in Social Psychology that a number of students attended it over and over again. Moreover, for many years they looked forward to the publication of a volume on the subject —which rumor declared was about to appear. One version had it that such a treatise actually reposed in a publisher's vault, awaiting a final release. Whatever may have been the basis for such rumors, the present volume is a construction from various sets of students' lecture notes (1927, 1930) and edited by Professor C. W. Morris. All who are interested in a substantial record of Mead's ideas must be duly grateful to Professor Morris for this excellent edition.
Besides four "Supplementary Essays" the material is divided into four divisions: "The Point of View of Social Behaviorism," "Mind," "The
( 460) Self," and "Society." In the first, a general psychological foundation is laid down. Mead rejects the view that psychology deals with consciousness in the sense of something existing prior to and bringing about behavior. But he is just as much opposed to Behaviorism which deals exclusively with bodily processes. Social psychology for Mead studies inner experience or activity which arises within a social process. The paradigm is language, which consists both of meaning or intelligence and intercommunicative (social) behavior. Mead thought that the origin of psychological phenomena in social processes saved it from any taint of parallelism.
The second division constitutes a lengthy argument purporting to show that mind arises through communication by a conversation of gestures in a social process. For Mead the mind is well characterized by the processes of meaning, knowing, significance, and reflection. Now meaning lies within the field of gesture. When an individual's gesture indicates a subsequent behavior to another organism, then it has meaning. When the organism has indicated to it that the other organism is responding to his gesture, then the gesture is significant. Such significant gestures are symbolic of and basic to intelligence and reflection.
The self arises in the process of gesture conversation or symbolic communication when the individual takes the attitude of another and acts toward himself as others do. The self comprises two aspects in so far as the "I" consists of the responses of the organism to the attitudes of others, while the "me" consists of the set of attitudes of others which the individual himself assumes. In terms of these two aspects of the self Mead explains social control (the "me" limits the "I") and social change (the "I" asserts itself within the limits of his society).
Since society is not only the source of the individual in so far as he is mind or self but also the perennial locus of his activity, the section entitled "Society" consists of a discussion of various adjustments of individuals. Sympathy is calling out in ourselves the attitude of the person we are assisting, while self realization consists in having others partake in and accept one's own attitudes.
In the large, Mead's social psychology sums up to a dialectic of mind quite in the tradition of the post-Kantian idealists. But so modern is his gestural dialectic that it becomes for him basic to a criticism of even recent conceptions of mentality, for the intercourse of individuals reaches down to a level of biological functions. Thus mind is an objective fact in a world of observable phenomena.
Howsoever well satisfied philosophers may be with Mead's social psychology, we fear that it may not be entirely acceptable to the psychologist, since the latter will question whether it touches the concrete realities
( 461) of psychological phenomena. Instead of giving a description of how individuals build up and perform responses to stimuli—whether personal or social—in a definite reactional biography, Mead offers merely a generalized statement of mental genesis.
The psychologist will undoubtedly ask whether mental phenomena are developed only in gestural give-and-take to the exclusion of the individual's private interactions with objects. In detail, he will ask whether all mentality is social in Mead's sense. So far as distinctly social psychological developments are concerned, the psychologist will miss especially the description of the individual's contacts with anthropological phenomena (actual institutional objects and events) which constitute so sure a guide to the origin of his concrete ideas, beliefs, and feelings. For, despite Mead's expressed objectivity, institutions for him are nothing but organizations of attitudes which we all carry in us (p. 211).
The psychologist may interpose another query: Why should social psychology be limited to the genesis of mind and not include the actual performance of psychological activities? Mead comes closest to the latter in discussing the "I" and the "me." But here again the activity stresses the emergence of the two phases of the self. The student of human behavior may justifiably become sceptical of the dialectic, precisely because it is so well adapted to explain such differences between the "I" and the "me," which after all are probably only names for a person's behavior equipment.
No one can fail to be attracted to Mead's brilliant statement of the genesis of a generalized mind, and especially if one is interested in the implications it carries concerning traditional moral and social theories. On the other hand, it may possibly not be regarded as a comprehensive treatment of the problems of social psychology.
J. R. KANTOR