George Herbert Mead is one of the pioneers of American philosophy as well as among the founders of Pragmatism. His work was published in several papers during his lifetime and even after his death. After his death, his students published four books in his name from his unpublished work. Mead's work has significantly influenced the 20th century social sciences. His theory of the emergence of mind and self is considered as a milestone in social philosophy. His contributions were not limited to social philosophy but his work also contributed in other areas of philosophy such as philosophy of nature or philosophical anthropology. Because of his significant contributions, he was being considered one of the greatest thinkers of his time.
The Self According to Mead:
According to the theories presented by Mead, self is characteristically different from physiological organism. Self is not present in an individual by birth but it develops with the social interaction of an individual.(Meads) During the process of social experience and activity, an individual develops relations with other individuals and as a result develops his or her "self." High level of intelligence present in humans help them to develop a self while animals who have lower level of intelligence cannot develop it. In our certain habitual actions, in which no thinking is involved, a certain level of aesthetic experience is present and experiences of these actions may not have any relationship to the self. It is therefore important under these circumstances that an individual must differentiate the experience that takes place immediately and his/her understanding of such instances into the experience of self. In addition to this, individuals tend to organize all of their experiences into that of a self. They do so in order to thoroughly identify their experiences with the self. Individuals also systematize their memories on the basis of the self. Whenever they see certain things or events they always see them with respect to the past experiences. Moreover, Mead argues that self is neither involved in the life of the organism nor is it involved in sensuous experiences.
He has clearly distinguished the body and the self by stating that the body can operate with its highest level of intelligence without the presence of the self. According to him:
The self has the characteristic that it is an object to itself, and that characteristic distinguishes it from other objects and from the body." (Mead)
He further argues that the reflective characteristic of the self the consciousness of humans from that of the animals (Mead). He has defined the term consciousness in two different ways. According to him, the first meaning of consciousness relates to the feeling experienced by an organism, which is the result of that living being's sensitivity to its environment. In terms of this definition of consciousness, animals can also be considered conscious, as they are sensitive to the changes and occurrences in the environment. As far as human beings are concerned, they also respond to the changes in the environment and are therefore conscious with respect to the first meaning of consciousness. The second meaning of consciousness, as defined by Mead, is the responsiveness of an individual with reference to the self in it i.e. The term consciousness can be also referred to as self-consciousness. (Mead) In order to understand human consciousness, it is appropriate to discuss it in terms of self-consciousness. According to Mead self-conscious of an individual leads to the objectification of the self. He further argues that self-consciousness is the outcome of a process in which an individual endeavors to scrutinize himself from the point-of-view of others.
Mead has identified three forms of interpersonal activities in order to clarify the social emergence of the self: language, play and the game. These three forms of social interactions are the basic processes of Mead's theory of socialization, which makes it possible to objectify the self. The first interpersonal activity identified by Mead is language, which is considered as communication through symbols. One can observe in his/her daily life that an individual is able to understand the attitudes of others towards himself/herself through communication. It therefore confirms to the assertion of Mead that language is a principal social foundation of the self. Mead further asserts that the process of role-playing serves as a vital element in the activities of playing and gaming. He comments that in the play an individual assumes the role of another and acts in a way if he/she was the other. (Meads) For instance, a child sometimes assumes the role of his/her parents and acts in a way as if he/she was a mother/father. It should however be noted that the activity of play involves playing a single role at a given time.
On the other hand, gaming involves more complex forms of role-playing. In the game an individual assumes the roles of all the players who are in some way involved with him/her. As commented by Mead:
He must, moreover, comprehend the rules of the game which condition the various roles
This configuration of roles-organized-according-to- rules brings the attitudes of all participants together to form a symbolized unity: this unity is the generalized other" (Mead)
The "I" and the "Me":
Mead divides the individual's self in terms of the "I" and the "Me." This however does not reflect that individual posses a split personality but it reflects the process that an individual goes through socially. The "I" part of an individual's self refers to an individual's opinion about himself or herself. On the other hand, the "Me" is the way an individual forms an opinion about himself/herself through the judgment of the society. In simple words:
The "I" is the response of the organism to the attitude of others; the "Me" is the organized attitudes of the others which one himself assumes." (Mead: Mind, Self and Society)
The "I" as well as the "Me" are essential for the development of the self in an individual. The "I" is that part of the self that creates new acts or that motivates an individual to initiate new activities. On the other hand, the "Me" is that part of the self that controls and monitors the "I." In the absence of the "I," an individual would not be able to perform or initiate new acts. This phenomenon is quite evident in our everyday lives. Whenever an individual thinks to initiate a new activity, the "I" helps the individual in determining the new activity to be initiated. As soon as the "I" determines the new activity, the "Me" overcomes the thinking process and the individual starts thinking about the response of others towards his newly determined actions. Thus, the self of an individual redirects an individual's thinking from the "I" to the "Me."
The above concepts of the self-presented by Mead are quite evident in our daily lives. The social development of individuals from childhood to adultness is a reflection of the process of the development of the self in an individual.
The Development of the "Self" in childhood:
The development of the self is quite evident in the early childhood and can be easily observed in the life of a child. With the birth of an individual, he or she is exposed to a wide range of symbols. The presence of numerous individuals around him/her such as the parents, the doctor, the relatives and other individuals, provide him/her the opportunity to interact with the outer world. However, to a newly born child, the symbols of these individuals mean nothing. The primary sources of a child's social development are his/her parents and other close relatives. With the span of time, the child starts to become acquainted with the environment in which he or she is living and thus the symbols start forming a meaning in his/her mind. In the beginning, the actions of the child and the response to his/her parents to those actions start forming a meaning in the mind of the child. As a consequence of parent's response to a child's specific gestures, the child starts to form a relationship with his/her gestures and the response of the parents. With the span of time the child will become familiar with the repeated responses of the parents to his/her actions.
It is also interesting to note that the change in response of the parents would force the child to redefine the association of his/her actions and the response. It should therefore be kept in mind that symbols are very important for the social development of the child. A child tries to associate certain meaning to a symbol until an association is made between the action and the response. The consequences of this phenomenon are very important as the socialization process of a child can be redeveloped in order to improve his/her social development. To think of a child as having the competency to make decisions in the socialization process is just ludicrous and anti-Mead. It is also important to note that at this stage the…
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