Review of Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist
Wilson D. Wallis
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.
The main emphasis in this book is upon the social character of mind and self. The author is a social behaviorist. Mind is behavior which is fundamentally and thoroughly social. Mind, therefore, is not confined to the contours of the body; for "if mind is socially constituted, then the
( 457) field or locus of any given individual mind must extend as far as the social activity or apparatus of social relations which constitutes it extends; and hence that field cannot be bounded by the skin of the individual organism to which it belongs" (p. 223). Watsonian behaviorism is good as far as it goes: it describes but does not explain. It is most useful in those situations for which it was devised, namely, experiments upon animals in which the mind, if inferred, must be observed in behavior, for the animal can give us information only through its behavior. Watsonian behaviorism does not explain its interest, much less the genesis of its interest, in its own doctrine. Affirming behaviorism and denying behaviorism are equally behavior. Hence why the behaviorist cares an iota how himself or another reacts to his doctrine is a matter which the behaviorist has not yet explained in behavioristic terms. In short, granted that mind is behavior, it remains important to distinguish between kinds of behavior; and the rational or pragmatic basis of such distinction is difficult to state on the behavioristic plane, for its opposite is equally behavior. Environment is important and is created by the selective action and reaction of the agent. Environment may be defined as things or phenomena to which the organism reacts. Hence organisms make environment as truly as environment makes organisms. A part of the social environment to which the individual reacts is the future situation projected in prevision.
The boxer gauges his action by his anticipation of the action of his opponent. A feint is designed to create an advantage to which the initiator will react after the feint has been reacted to by his opponent. Thus social behavior is an intricate system of stimulus and response in which anticipated response is a stimulus. Even fighting dogs respond to the stimulus of anticipated response. (The author is fond of fighting dogs and pugilists, at least as examples; dogs fight all over the book from beginning to end and even snarl through the editor's Introduction. To some extent these canine discordances are offset by the song of the canary which sings gaily to the sparrow in more than one section of the treatise, with, of course, much profit to the sparrow's vocal chords.)
In all thought, all mind, the social is present. "Thinking is not a field or realm which can be taken outside of possible social uses. There has to be some such field as religion or economics in which there is something to communicate, in which there is a co-operative process, in which what is communicated can be socially utilized" (P. 259).
I suppose Mead did not relish the story about the mathematician who finished his task with the observation: "Now, thank God, I have done something which no one else will understand for a long time and no one can ever use."
It seems to me that in pointing to the ubiquity of the social the author fails to distinguish, at least in thesis and treatment, between the ever-present and the logically presupposed. All thought links up with society; but also all thought links up with a head and a stomach, with a solar system and the stars. "If mind is socially constituted, then the field or locus of any given individual mind must extend as far as the social activity or apparatus of social relations which constitutes it extends." Yes; but if mind is to roam through the stellar spaces, then, mutatis mutandi, it must extend as far as the constellations which it embraces and which embrace it; and hence it cannot be bounded by a planetary society. By the author's logic, if one must admit that mind is all social, one must admit that it is all star dust, all molecules, all anything with which it is bound up. The author does not tell us why "this entirely social theory or interpretation of mind-this contention that mind develops and has its being only in and by virtue of the social process of experience and activity, which it hence presupposes"-excludes the possibility of mind being its own society. Sections of the book treat of the "I" and the "me." By the author's logic, isn't the social a part of my mind only when it is part of the "me," and do I not react to that phase of the social which is the "me"? If the small portion of the earth on which I stand flings out into space and leaves me sole occupant of a world, cannot I remain a rational being and have a mind subsequently? Granted that withdrawing social stimuli is withdrawing a great deal; withdrawing one's memory, or one's physical nourishment, is likewise withdrawing from the individual a great deal that is vital to his mind.
The proposition that the individual cannot have a self unless he has a society seems to deserve its converse: he cannot have society unless he has a self. The author's statement that the organism creates environment by reacting to it as stimulus seems applicable to self and society.
The book is constituted of students' notes of lectures. It seems to us that these should have been edited more carefully, both as a duty to the lecturer and as an obligation to the reader.
The style is heavy, obscure, repetitious; and many of the statements are jejune. Certainly the lecturer, who is involuntarily made an author, would not have accepted this manuscript as suitable for publication. Some statements are unintelligible as they stand (e.g., p. 251), or naļvest tautology (e.g., p. 312), or without any justification in the historical facts cited (e.g., p. 315). The references to primitive man—presumably our preliterate contemporary—sound antediluvian. "The primitive man has the mind of the child--indeed, of the young child. He approaches his problems in terms of social conduct" (p. 377). One wonders why the
(459) ethnologist goes so far afield to gather his information when he might glean it in the nursery.
"There are primitive people who can carry on elaborate conversations just by expressions of the countenance" (p. 147). Further information about these people would be a matter of considerable interest to linguists and perhaps to psychologists as well. I doubt the duplication of this accomplishment outside of the nursery, however, and suspect that the curious ethnologist may as well remain at home.
The volume, of course, must be tested by its contribution to philosophic insight, and specifically on the basis of its contribution to an understanding of problems of mind, self, and society. The reviewer finds it elusive, often illusory, and seldom elucidating. I doubt that any reader will pronounce it passably lucid save at rare intervals. One is tempted to regret this flaunting of the lecturer's implied wish that these words of his go no farther than the ears of his classroom hearers, to whom he was always an inspiration.
The editor was "well aware that all of our combined efforts have not been able to produce the volume which we wish George H. Mead might have written. But there is no evidence that even an added grant of life would have seen the material brought to volume form by his hands."
There are times when it is wise as well as appropriate to respect the wishes of the deceased.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA