A Behavioristic Account of the Logical Function of Universals. II: Common Signs and Universals

John M. Brewster

THE functional properties of thoughts, as I have explained in Part I, consist of their being references (1) from symbols, their cause, to (2) referents or objects for which symbols stand, and (3) stimuli to the subsequent overt response of the symbol observer or thicker to the object symbolized or thought about. Ideas constitute the cognitive relation between symbols and their referents, and the subsequent behavior of the symbol observer is the function of this relation. Ideas, and not symbols, are substitutes for objects symbolized. If the response to a stimulus is not interposed between a word and its referent so that it may function as a control over future behavior, then the response is not a conceptual response, but simply a meaning.

There are two other facts about language or communicative symbols. First, their commonality. That is, regardless of what organism may make an act of speech, it evokes a thought of a common referent in all observers which may be used by each as a control over his subsequent behavior. Second, is the fact that a symbol, for example, "a game of hide and seek," evokes not one, but alternative meanings of the referent symbolized. A "chair" may evoke thoughts of an object to be bought and sold, or a thing to sit upon. In both these respects a symbol differs from a gesture.

In the analysis of a social act in sub-human forms or in human fortes so far as it proceeds in habitual. fashion without the use of symbols, I have emphasized the functional structure of references in the overt behavior of a group. The structure of a symbol consists in the fact that the reference-response initiated by a sign to an objective is a control over the subsequent conduct of an organism, viz., the gesturer. But not until the signs stimulate responses (references) on the part of each organism such that these sign references to objects become stimuli (ideas) enabling each organism to control his own subsequent behavior to objects thought of or symbolized, does the structure of social behavior become individual re-

( 534) -flective behavior. Watson's account neglects this social structure presupposed by symbols and reflective behavior.

Hence, the task at hand is to describe how speech behavior or symbols must function in order to determine idea-reactions in contrast to the mere sign function of gestures which evokes mere meaning or reference responses. I think it can be shown that any gesture which functions as a common gesture would fulfill the above requisites of a communicative symbol.

What, then, is necessary in order that a gesture may function as a socially common sign and therefore be a symbol? The most instructive clue here is that of noticing what makes a gesture an uncommon sign. We may take the case of a social act of throwing and catching.

Gesture   Meaning   Referent
G1 wind-up   catcher’s positioning   completed pitch
G2 catcher’s positioning   pitcher’s final throw   completed catch

In similar manner, a boxing bout, a checker game, or any overt cooperative social act might be analyzed. The chief difficulty is distinguishing, the individual phases of a coöperative act; its general triadic reflexive pattern is relatively obvious. Inspection of such cases shows that unconmmonality of a gesture rests mainly oil two things. First, each gesture evokes (a) a different response (meaning or reference) and (b) consequently has a different referent. The reference of the wind-up gesture is the catcher's getting ill position for the pitcher's subsequent throw which is the referent of the wind-up. The reference of the catcher's squatting, cupping his hands is the pitcher's throwing to his subsequent catch. From this fact it is further evident that, the referents of all tile gesture phases of a social act constitute the whole social act. Thus, the completed pitch referred to by its gesture phase, the wind-up, and the completed catch referred to by its gesture phase, constitute the whole set of throwing and catching. But still, no gesture refers to the whole group act but only to the terminal phase of the gesturing act itself. This obtains because a gesture evokes a response directed toward the gesture's subsequent response which is only a, part of the whole act. Hence, no gesture has the whole social act as its referent. That is, no gesture of a social act, such as a dog's bared teeth, call stimulate a response which has as its objective the behavior of the group as a whole. Hence, any social organisms whose responses are controlled by mere gestures can never respond to the group itself, but only to some part of the group act, amid this part is always the part enacted by another organism. A dog eau react to another dog's part of a fight, but never to the whole fight which would include his own, as well as the other's, overt rôle.


Secondly, a gesture is uncommon if, for any reason, it is not functionally identical for the same receptors of two or more organisms. Thus, unless the pitcher's wind-up stimulates in the pitcher the tendency to catch, his gesture does not affect his eye as it does the catcher. If the lion's roar does not stimulate in the lion the immediate attitude of flight from his subsequent attack as it does on the part of the deer, then the lion's gesture is not functionally common to the lion and the deer. There seem to be two reasons for a gesture's lacking such functional identity. First, it may be physically incapable of striking alike the receptors of two or more organisms. The facial (visual) gestures are a case in point. One's frown does not subtend light rays striking his eyes as it does the eyes of another. It may therefore be an excellent sign to another, but non-existent for the gestures. Iii the second place, a gesture may be physically capable of striking the same receptors of the gesturer and another and yet be functionally uncommon for physiological reasons. Physically, the vibrations of the lion's roar are capable of striking his ear as they do those of the deer, but unless they cant arouse in the lion at least the beginning of flight, his roar will not be functionally common.

We may now proceed to a positive statement, of what is necessary ill order that some gesture part; of behavior, say vocal, in ii function as a common sign, i.e., a sign which determines a common reference (response) to a common referent regardless of what organism may make the common gesture.[1] We most note that common is here the modifier of three different factors: the common sign, the common referent, the common reference Any one involves the others, but they must be kept distinct for analysis.

How is a common sign to be described so as to bring out its similarity and difference of function from a mere sign? What method can be used to define a common sign? It can hardly be a method of abstraction. As we have seen, the functional property of a sign is the response it, initiates. Thus, the functional property of tile pitcher's wind up is the other's catching. The function of the squatting gesture is the other's pitch. Each of the series of gestures controls a different response. Hence, by no method of abstraction eau we discover any common gesture. If this method were used we should abstract some gesture element which was the common stimulus to all the different response phases of the social act just as from various three-sided figures we should abstract the property of triangularity common to then all. Thus, in the act

(536) of throwing and catching, attack and defense, we should seek some movement, such as an upraised hand, which is a stimulus to the alternative reactions of throwing and catching. Russell, by using tine method of extensive abstraction, defines the place of a thing (penny) as the point where its distance (visual) perspectives intersect. This seems but another way of saying that, where we have a number of different things, the way to discover the universal factor is to discover that factor which is common to all the different things. This method does not recognize that a universal, such as a language symbol, may be an emergent sign. If gesture sighs, adequate to a coöperative act, are functionally different and exist for the other observer, and not the gesturer, I see no possibility of discovering a universal or common sign by any method of abstraction. In a boxing bout or a simple game of throwing and catching or in overt moves of a game of checkers, we find no gesture part that "intersects," to use Russell's term, all the response phases of these respective acts. We must acknowledge that a symbol, i.e., a common sign, is a new (emergent) kind of sign whose properties are not those of other signs.

What, then, must be the novel or emergent properties of a common gesture or symbol ? If each gesture may initiate a different response on the part of another organism, then a common sign must differ in two respects from a gesture. First, it must be physically capable of striking approximately alike the receptors of any number of organisms. As Mead pointed out, the vocal gesture well meets this requirement, whereas other gestures such as the facial expressions are not capable of affecting the gesturer as they do another.

In the case of the vocal gesture the forms hears its own stimulus just as when this is used by other forms, so it tends to respond also to its own stimulus as it responds to the stimulus of other forms. . . .

The vocal gesture, then, has an importance which no other gesture has. We can not see ourselves when our face assumes a certain expression. If we hear ourselves speak we are more apt to pay attention. One hears himself when he is irritated using a tone that is of an irritable quality, and so catches himself. But in the facial expression of irritation the stimulus is not one that calls out an expression in the individual which it calls out in the other. One is more apt to catch himself up and control himself in the vocal gesture than in the expression of the countenance.[2]

True, the movements of the hands do not suffer this difficulty and cony become a language as in the case of the deaf. But the hand has other natural functions of manipulation, whereas the vocal apparatus of sub-human forms seems to have no other natural func-

( 537) -tion except that of being sign stimuli to the social adjustments of others.

Given this physical condition, the second condition of a common sign is physiological. If each gesture stimulates a different response of a different organism, a common sign must be one which, as it strikes the same receptor of each organism, is common to alternative responses, each of which in the overt social act is controlled by a different gesture. For example, supposing the pitcher's picking up the ball is a gesture whose response function is the catcher's getting in catching position. The catcher's positioning is a gesture whose function is the pitcher's final throw, and this in turn controls the final catch. In similar fashion any overt coöperative act might be analyzed. A common sign, such as "A and B are catching and throwing a ball," is one which simultaneously initiates in each observer the alternative responses of throwing and catching, which, if completed by each observer, would be each organism in different places at the same time throwing and catching a ball. In like manner, if one observes a common symbol of a checker game, stating that if A moves number 1 to spot 16, B jumps 1 and 4 and then A takes number 4, then such a sign simultaneously calls out in each observer these alternative response phases of the game prior to the subsequent overt move of any organism. Each observer finds himself taking the rôle of different members of a possible group. In a word, a common lingual sign, if defined behaviorally in terms of the overt social structure of language, is one which shifts the alternative phases of a social act from different organisms to each single organism. But of course it is impossible that alternative responses initiated by a common sign be simultaneously carried out by each sign observer.

If ideas are capable of behavioral interpretation, they imply a type of physiological structure in which, on the one hand, au indefinite number of responses to remote objects can be initiated and recombined with one another through the rearrangement of symbols without immediately passing to overt, completion, and on the other hand, this structure moist allow these incipient responses to be a control over time subsequent overt behavior that, may be carried out. Symbols simply enable the later part of acts to be a control over present responses. The cortex is evidently a structure capable of such function, though its detailed functioning is, still the dark continent of science. Our main concern is to point out that if ideas are references to remote objects, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, are the means of controlling one's subsequent overt response to the objects symbolized, and if ideas are interpreted in behavioral terms rather than iii terms of psychical states, then there must be

( 538) an intermediate response structure capable of performing the intermediate function of ideas. On this view the causal relation between ideas (mind) and overt behavior (body) is the working connections established in the nervous system of each of several organisms engaging in a social act, and not between the brain and "consciousness." The difference between mind and body is the functional difference between communicative and non-communicative forms of social action. But at the present stage of research no one can verify in complete detail. the physiological conditions for that type of intermediate response which has the functional properties of a thought of a symbolized object.

We ask the reader to keep in mind the method of analysis that led to this implied physiological condition for a communicative symbol, an emergent type of sign. We are led to this by the social approach to common symbols and ideas, and not by any study of neurology. We found the structure of symbols and ideas in the overt social act of a group. That is, a gesture is a sign whose reference or response of another controls the subsequent response of the gesturer. The gesture reference or meaning relation lies between and definitely separates the gesture from the subsequent response of the gesturer. We then expressed what is behaviorally necessary for a common sign and found that it must be the type of lingual behavior, such as a word or proposition, which initiates simultaneously in each organism the beginnings of the alternative responses hitherto controlled successively by different gestures, and also that such symbol.-evoked responses to the group social act must be evoked prior to the subsequent and differentiated overt responses of each organism as it participates in the act. It is, therefore, through the carrying out of the implication of the gesture structure of language and ideas as we find them in the overt social acts that we are led to the necessity of inferring a nervous system performing the fu notion referred to above.

As ideas, the symbol observer's responses consist in his imaginatively taking the rôle of a group. The function of such an ideal-rôle is to control the symbol observer's subsequent behavior with respect to the group activity symbolized. His subsequent behavior may be of various kinds such as seeking out others to play the game, i.e., finding the object symbolized, or expressing dislike for such objects, or to suggest changes in the way the game has been played in the past.

The common symbol thus initiates in each organism the implicit responses which are functionally the responses of other members of a group prior to and as a control over the observer's subsequent behavior, so that the responses evoked by the common sign consti-

( 539) -tute his ideas of how others will respond if confronted with given stimuli. It is possible that one's idea-rôle of another may lead to his carrying out overtly the responses of another, or what is called imitative conduct. This is very prominent in the case of children. But this is not necessary. The function of a symbol-evoked response (idea), as of a gesture's meaning, is to control some subsequent response of the gesturer. It does not call for the gesturer to make the same type of response made by the gesture observer. The windup does not lead the catcher to respond by pitching. But "throw-the-ball" does account for imitative conduct or carrying out commands without presupposing any instinct of imitation. Imitation would be a product of the functional identity of a common symbol.

It is important to note that the function of the social rôle-responses of other members of a group does not require that the individual's own response to the group symbolized and thought of shall lead the individual to perform the behavior done by and required by the whole group. His reply to the group may consist in his refusal to accept their demands, or in his effort to reconstruct their behavior. Thus the group may demand that each respect private property. The individual's reply may consist in abolishing private property in favor of socialized property in the interest both of himself and others. Thus the very genesis of ideas from group behavior, instead of making the individual mind a, "duplicate" of the group, creates a unique individual simply because the idea-rôles of others enable the individual to react critically to the whole group. His reply may enable others to change their behavior by accepting the new idea of the individual. We can hardly agree, then, with Professor T. V. Smith that Mead's theory of the social genesis of mind necessarily makes the individual a "duplicate" of his group.[3]

Thus far I have sought, to identify the functional difference between a socially common sign and a gesture, and we have found this difference to consist in the fact that a common sign is one which evokes simultaneously in all organisms alternative responses, hitherto evoked successively by different gestures, such that these symbols or common sign references connect (1) the symbol, (2) its referent, and (3) the subsequent reply of each organism and are a means of determining what this reply will be. Such symbol responses would occupy the functional status of ideas.

I now wish to point out certain other implications of this proposition. The first point, namely, that, ideas have distinctive objects, has been implied in the above discussion, but; it should be made more explicit. Just as a symbol is a new kind of sign so is its referent

(540) new. The object referred to by a socially common sign is the whole social act of a group. That is, a common symbol initiates in each organism alternative responses which if completed would be his overt performance of a group act and not any special part of it. Such alternatives can not be carried out by each organism. But they may control what lie may do and therefore constitute his concept of an act which can be carried out only by a group. The whole social act is simply any act performed by a group. The referent of a sign, we said, is that objective which terminates the response initiated by a sign. Hence in a social act the referent of a sign would be the objective of another's response initiated by a gesture. Therefore, the referent of a gesture is the subsequent response of the gesturer. But it is evident that the subsequent response of each organism to his gesture's reference (another's response) would constitute a whole social act of all the organisms. Hence, the reference of a common gesture sign in-List be the complete act of a group. In short, it follows that a common gesture's reference is a series of responses (sometimes called a group attitude) evoked in each individual and connects (1) the symbol, (2) the group, its referent, and (3) the subsequent overt reaction of each organism to the group or its members.

But now a second consequence follows. If A, B, and C, communicate with each other about the boxing bout of A and B (which is a non-communicative social act), the subsequent overt responses to the symbolized group act of A and B may be affected by the communication of the group, A B C. Though outside the symbolized boxing bout, C's acts involving subsequent boxing responses of A and B are not without effect on the symbolized group act. The symbol's reference to A and B, which is C's thought of the act of A and B, may cause C to demand A to deliver a different blow with respect to B, one which C might deliver if the group permitted him to perform his proposed new function of A. The common symbol's reference is to the other members of a group act, but for this reason it transforms A and B from mere sign-observers (in their boxing) into common-symbol-sharers. This new function may have real consequences for their subsequent group behavior as well as for the subsequent conduct of C. It is just this capacity of the human organism to respond as a critical communicant of a group act instead of reacting as a mere participant in a group act which distinguishes human social behavior when mediated by symbols from the sub-human form which is mediated by mere gesture signs.

Thirdly, the function of a common sign as defined in terms of the context of a social act distinguishes its structure from that of

( 541) mere gestures. In the study of signs we have seen that a gesture is but a part of an ongoing social act.

But it would seem that the case is different with common signs. It is evident that such a symbol is distinct from the ideas it evokes. Also it can not be an integral part of either the group act to which it refers or of the subsequent response of its observers, because both of these are separated from the symbol by the idea-responses which the symbol evokes. It appears, then, that the behavioral function of common signs distinguishes the structure of "speech" behavior from other overt behavior, thereby permitting the parts of propositional symbols, such as nouns, verbs, and modifiers, to have relations to one another distinct from the structural elements of other behavior. The study of the structure of symbol elements might constitute the science of grammar, and the subject-matter of logic would be the logical constants of grammar. Since symbols evoke idea-responses the structure of formally correct thinking would be identical with the logical structure of language. We need not pursue this suggestion further at present.

In the fourth place, this conception of a common sign or symbol defines exactly the kind of a substitute stimulus which constitutes a symbol. A common sign simultaneously evokes the incipient responses hitherto controlled by two or more gestures, such that the responses evoked by the common substitute stimulus are ideas of the original overt responses. Any sign common to the alternative functions of different gestures is a substitute stimulus. But common signs are the kind of substitute stimuli' which evoke idea-responses to the original objects for which they are substitutes.

The ordinary account of substitute stimulus, which neglects the gesture context of language, has been entirely unable to state how it is possible for a substitute stimulus to function as a symbol. That is, the current account is limited to showing how one stimulus, after being associated with a given object, comes to evoke the same response as the original object. In such cases the substitute is functionally identical with the original object, and this is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a symbol. Just because A comes to evoke the same response as B is no evidence that A is a symbol. If the response to A is just the same as the response to B, A is most certainly not a symbol of B, nor is its response an idea of B. The fact that sound A calls out the same response, say flight, as an actual lion, is no evidence that flight is a thought of a lion, nor that A is a symbol of the lion. A symbol must be defined in terms of the unique social function of the responses which it evokes, and not in terms of the fact that a "part" of an original object may evoke a response similar to the whole original object.

( 542)

It is a fact that much of our language serves as substitute stimuli for overt alternative and codetermining responses such as buying and selling, giving and taking, attack and defense, playing games, acts whose overt execution proceeds quite well in terms of gestures. The chief value of such symbols consists in starting and redirecting these coöperative processes. Now it is my basic contention that a common substitute stimulus for reciprocal responses is logically common because it serves in communication. By applying the principle of substitution to overt social acts, whose mechanisms or original stimuli are gestures, we get just the kind of substitutes which are symbols and whose responses are ideas of the objects for which they are substitutes. The behavioral formula of symbols and of intermediate responses which have the functional status of ideas is thus derived from the gesture context of language. That is, any speech act, be it a word or a proposition, has an idea in so far as such a speech reaction is common to the response functions of two or more gestures.

In terms of this gesture context, it is the overt social functions of organisms themselves which are logically the primary objects of ideas. But once the function of a symbol is socially derived, symbols may be employed to stand for all sorts of objects (e.g., tables, mountains, mathematics, etc.) in spatial, temporal, and causal relation to one another, freed from their logically primary social context. The logical relations of symbols thus follow the spatial, temporal, and causal relations of the things symbolized, rather than the structure of social behavior whence they arise. Thus with the emergence of language from the context of gestures and its association with all parts of our physical environment all objects of nature or of imagination may become social objects of thought.

In the fifth place, common gestures or symbols bring an individual's past habitual behavior into the present in the form of ideas as a control over his future behavior. This is evident from the function of a symbol. We have seen that a common gesture is one which simultaneously initiates in each organism alternative responses hitherto controlled successively and in different places by different gestures. Take for example the ball game. The pitcher's throws, the plays of catcher, short stop, and basemen, etc., are but different individual phases of the social act of putting out the batter. The batter's strikes, runs to first, steals, etc., are but phases of his larger act of scoring. In so far as any one of these phases of the social act affects another it is a gesture. The different gesture phases of a social act occur at different times and places. In so far as each organism's overt response is immediately controlled by a gesture, that organism's past behavior would not enter to control

( 543) his subsequent behavior. The only control is exercised by the other person's gesture or the immediate stimulus.

But this is altered by a common gesture or symbol. Let each organism be affected by the following symbols: "If A throws a fast ball to B, B will hit to short-stop, C; C will throw to first, D; D will put out B." This symbol, striking approximately alike the same receptors of any number of organisms and common to the response functions of the different gesture parts of the overt social act, evokes simultaneously in each individual the beginnings of alternative responses hitherto separately controlled by different gestures of the players and enables the individual to select the type of response he is to make to the symbolized group.

Now why is it that such a symbol simply enables the individual to use his past as a control over his subsequent behavior? First, it is evident that the alternative responses simultaneously evoked by a symbol, if completed, are equivalent to the overt act of a group. That is, each organism would be simultaneously in different places, pitching, catching, running, etc. But secondly, each individual's conceptual response consists of the beginnings of alternative responses which are equivalent to his past alternative acts performed at different times when he functioned as a different member of a group under the control of a different gesture part of the group act. Thus the attitude of batting a fast ball, which is a part of his conceptual response, each has done or seen done overtly in the past in response to the pitcher's throw. What the symbol does, then, is simply to call out simultaneously the beginnings of past responses to different parts of the symbolized objects so that these past experiences become possible futures enabling an individual to select his subsequent response and have it ready when the symbolized object occurs. Of course, when our past reactions to objects are evoked simultaneously then they exist in our present as conceptual references to both past and future of the object symbolized.

Before closing, I should like to point out the difference between Mead's derivation of symbols and the foregoing analysis, which is largely based on the social behaviorism of Mead. Mead recognizes the social universality of language as the central problem.

What language seems to carry is a set of symbols answering to certain content which is measurably identical in the experience of different individuals. If there is to be communication as such the symbol has to mean the same thing to all individuals involved .[4]

However, it does not appear that Mead's analysis of a symbol really explains a socially common symbol. He does explain how a gesture may become a symbol to the organism making it. But this has two

( 544) limitations. First, it implies that the making of a speech reaction is essential to its function as a symbol, and secondly, it does not explain how such a gesture is a symbol to everyone, to others as well as the gesturer. His approach to language is by way of criticizing the parallelistic account of Wundt. Wundt, in contrast to Darwin, had defined gestures, especially facial expressions, as phases of larger social acts. Their evolutionary survival was due to their value as social stimuli and not due, as Darwin said, to their being an escape valve for the emotions. But Wundt was a parallelist holding that ideas and emotions were psychical correlates of action in certain nerve paths. He attempted to account for communication by combining his parallelism with his social interpretation of a gesture. A given gesture, say a clenched fist, has as its psychical correlate, an idea of attack and an emotional attitude of anger. To be a communicative or common sign it is necessary that a similar parallelism be set up in another individual. That is, in order for A to communicate his idea of attack to B, it is necessary that his clenched fist lead B to clench his fist.

... If the gesture, in the case of the human individual, has parallel with it a certain psychical state which is the idea of what the person is going to do, and if this gesture calls out a like gesture in the other individual and calls out a similar idea, then it becomes a significant gesture. It stands for the ideas in the minds of both of them.... In order that Wundt's theory of the origin of language may be carried out, the gesture which the first individual makes use of must in some sense be reproduced in the experience of the [second] individual in order that it may arouse the same idea in his minds.[5]

But while gestures "may call out acts which are alike, as a rule the response is different from the stimulus itself." Still, "as far as the conversation of gestures is concerned the act of one sort calls an act of a different sort in the other form." [6] Therefore, "how . . . does a responding organism get or experience the same idea or psychical correlate of any given gesture that the organism making this gesture has?"[7] The gesturer knows what he means when he gestures, but this parallelistic account suggests no mechanism by which his ideas may be communicated to another. Common symbols are unaccounted for.

But more than this is the fact that Wundt's account presupposed the existences of minds (ideas) as "antecedent to the social process in order to explain communication within that process."[8] If you "presuppose the existence of mind at the start as explaining or making possible the social process of experience, then the origin of

( 545) minds and the interaction among minds become mysteries. But if . . . you regard the social processes (social acts) of experience as prior, in a rudimentary form, to the existence of mind and explain the origin of mind in terms of the interaction among individuals within that process (social acts), then not only the origin of minds, brut also the interaction among minds . . . cease to seem mysterious or miraculous."[9]

Mead, therefore, abandons ideas as psychical states. He must henceforth state thoughts of objects in terms of intermediate responses on the part of the body itself, which act as controls over subsequent behavior. He starts with primitive overt social acts mediated by gestures. The gesture is not a. symbol to the gesturer because, as a social stimulus, its function is to stimulate the response of another to the subsequent phase of the gesture and not at all to stimulate the gesturing organism. "Such a universal discourse is not at all essential to the conversation of gestures in coöperative conduct."[10] But this response of another, the gesture observer, is not an idea because it is not a stimulus to his subsequent adjustment to the gesture's referent because this other's response is controlled by the gesture itself.

Since Mead purports to explain communication, his real problem is to describe how common signs, i.e., language acts, evoke in all members identical idea-responses and not merely ideas on the part of the gesturer.

But the form in which he states his problem precludes a satisfactory solution. His statement may be put in this form: how does a gesture become a symbol to the gesturer? In substance his reply is that there must be a gesture which affects the gesturer as it affects another. That gesture is a symbol in so far as it calls out in the gesturer, an incipient response which is functionally identical for the gesturer as is the overt response of another organism. Thus the gesturer's response to his gesture is one which is a reference to or anticipation of the overt behavior of another and is a control over the gesture's subsequent adjustment to the thought of or anticipated overt reply of another to his gesture.

I find Mead's most explicit statement to be as follows: "Gestures become significant symbols when they implicitly arouse in an individual making them the same response which they explicitly arouse in other individuals. . .." [11] "The significant gesture or significant symbol . . . calls out in the individual making it the same attitude toward it that it calls out in the other individuals

(546) . . . and thus makes him conscious of their attitude toward it . . . and enables him to adjust his subsequent behavior to theirs in the light of that attitude." [12] Again, "when, in any given social act or situation, one individual indicates by a gesture to another individual what this other individual is to do, the first individual is conscious of the meaning of his own gesture." [13] Take the case of two boxers where one makes a feint or the beginning of a subsequent blow calling for a certain guard on the part of the other. The feinting gesture is a symbol to the gesturer in so far as the feint initiates "the same act in himself." "It does not go clear through, but he has stirred up centers in his central nervous system which would lead to his making the sane blow that his opponent is led to make." [14] "The response which lie calls out in himself (the guarding reaction) is the stimulus to him to strike where an opening is given. This action which lie has initiated already in himself thus becomes a stimulus for his later response. He knows what his opponent is going to do, since the guarding movement is one which is already aroused and becomes a stimulus to strike where the opening is given. The meaning (idea) would not have been present in his conduct unless it became a stimulus to strike where a favorable opening appears."[15]

The substance of Mead's behavioral definition of a symbol, then, is this : the primary function of a gesture sign is to stimulate a response of another member of a social act which is at once a reference to and a stimulus to the subsequent response of the gesturer. Such a gesture is a symbol to no one because it stimulates in no organism a response which controls his own subsequent responses to the referent (subsequent response) of the gesture. But, still, the triadic reflexive structure of the gesture as found in the group act is identical with the symbol and idea as found in the behavior of a single individual. What is necessary for a gesture to be a symbol is that it shall affect him as it affects another. If a gesture so affects a gesturer, then it must initiate in the gesturer a response which is functionally the response of another. Such a response on the part of the gesturer can not be the overt response of the other because it must directly function as a control over the overt response he subsequently performs. Hence the "response of another," aroused implicitly in the gesturer by his gesture, comes between his gesture, its referent (the overt response of another), and his subsequent response. The gesture-evoked response, whether made overtly by

( 547) another organism or implicitly by the gesturer, is an intermediate response like an idea. But only in the latter ease does it constitute a thought.

Mead's logic is flawless. If a gesture's primary function is the determination of another response which in turn controls the subsequent response of the gesturer, then any gesture which affects the gesturer must evoke in the gesturer a response which is functionally an idea, and the other becomes a symbolized object. .

But this definition of a symbol in terms of the effect of a gesture -upon the gesturer by no means defines a common sign, a sign which evokes a similar idea-response in everyone, because the response which the gesture evokes in another organism is the "explicit" overt response and this is by no means a control. over the other's subsequent behavior. The gestures determines the origin of ideas in his own nervous system, but not in any one else. His symbol is simply his private property; never by means of it can he communicate his idea to another. We may say that Mead explained the genesis of the individual's mind (ideas), but he did not explain the "interaction between minds" which is communication, because he did not correctly define common symbols. He said that when a gesture called out in everyone an identical response, then that gesture was a universal. This begs the question, for the real question is whether this universal response is everyone's idea-response of a symbolized object. By his own analysis it is the idea possessed by only one organism, viz., the gesturer.

But I think his analysis has the great merit of at least defining an idea in behavioral terms and of showing the behavioral genesis of minds. It does not explain communication between minds any more than did Wundt's parallelism. My own remedy for his private symbols is to define a common speech symbol as common to the alternative response functions of different gestures. I do not see how common symbols follow from pointing out the effect of gestures upon the gesturer. This will give a symbol, but never a common symbol, since who it is that makes a common sign is logically irrelevant to its cognitive function. Common symbols must be defined as the common property of the group and not merely of a single individual. It is this which I do not find in Mead's account.



  1. In this essay a common sign is a symbol having a universal significance and evolving conceptual response on the part of everyone. Wherever a sign is not spoken of as common it is not regarded as a symbol.
  2. Mind, Self, and Society, p. 65.
  3. Smith, T. V., ''The Social Philosophy of George Herbert Mead," AmericanJournal of Sociology, Vol. XXXVII (1931), pp. 368-385.
  4. Mead, George H., Mind, Self and Society, p. 54.
  5. Ibid., p. 48 (italics mine).
  6. Ibid., p. 54.
  7. Ibid., pp. 49, 57.
  8. Ibid., p. 49.
  9. Ibid., p. 50.
  10. Ibid., p. 55. Illustrations are given in the context.
  11. Ibid., p. 47.
  12. Ibid., p. 46.
  13. Ibid., p. 47 (italics mine).
  14. Ibid., p. 68.
  15. Ibid., p. 73.

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