The Record of a Famous Course

Ernest C. Moore

MIND, SELF AND SOCIETY, by George H. Mead. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934. xxxviii+439 pages. $5.00.

In a postscript to a letter to John Dewey in 1903, William James wrote him these comforting words about what he was trying to effect in Chicago, "I see an entirely `new school of thought' forming and as I believe, a true one." In John Dewey's ecstatic response he told William James: "As for the standpoint —we have all been at work at it for about twelve years. Lloyd and Mead were both at it in Ann Arbor ten years ago."


In 1894 that activity was moved to the University of Chicago. The philosophical company there was made up of John Dewey, James H. Tufts, George H. Mead, A. W. Moore, and James Angell. No one of these worked so closely with Professor Dewey as George Mead did. He gave his whole life to the developing of "the standpoint." His mind was first analytical, then synthetic; his knowledge of science was comprehensive; and his interest was in fitting the world of physical and biological fact, and the expanding developments of human society, into an articulation of meanings.

Professor Mead did not publish much. Some who knew him well said that was for the same reason that Socrates did not publish; that is, he was absorbed in conversation. Others said he had difficulty in written articulation, but that was a fate that fell upon some other pragmatists but which did not keep them from writing. At any rate, when Professor Mead died the students who had sat in his courses brought together their notes of his lectures and from them, this and two other volumes have been prepared.

This is Professor Mead's famous course in "Social Psychology," and it well deserved to be famous, too, for this book, which reproduces it, shows that in it he massed the problems of man's life together and brought to bear upon the solution of them all the vast learning and the analytic acumen which nature and persistent meditation had given him. The results warrant the undertaking. In a day of mediocre thinkers, we are here given a masterpiece. This is a book for prolonged and painstaking study. It must be acknowledged that it is not easy to read. It is highly technical as any markedly thorough study of its difficult subject must be. Its contention is that mind and the self "appear within conduct," that they are generated socially. Supernaturalism which lets them down from above cannot explain them. "The other-worldliness of the reason . . . of ancient philosophy, the other-worldliness of soul . . . of Christian doctrine, and the other-worldliness of the mind of the Renaissance," surround them with mystery and leave them incomprehensible and useless in this human world of change and problems calling for incessant adjustment. Take mind and the self in terms of biologic development-what is the process which brings them into being? No animal but man has made the grade from impulse to rationality. How did man make it, how did man become man? for that is the problem. Biologic individuals are not yet consciously communicating selves. Mind and the self are social emergents. Language is the mechanism for their emergence.

That is undoubtedly true, and it is most acutely analyzed, reasoned, and established in this course. George Mead was perpetually pondering the process of reconstruction. He had mastered its unceasing give and take. When he came to set it forth I think he sometimes made the social process everything and allowed it to swallow up the biologic individuals or human engines that carry it on. The old puzzle — which is first, the individual or society — is not solved by saying that society is first. They are both first. Individuals and nothing but individuals make society, and society and nothing but society makes individuals. Each conditions and constitutes the other. They are as omnipresently together as the two sides of the same shield. The natural history of man must find the mind and the self developing in the process of social give and take, but it is the social give and take of biologic units of the human species, and the full account is of biologic as well as of social psychology.

University of California at Los Angeles


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