Getting acquainted with Mead (2005)

These notes were written up as lecture notes for our Phi 381 class in Spring 2005. References are to the
second edition of Stuhr’s anthology of Classical American Philosophy, except for the first item (labeled
[HPW]) which refers to the American Philosophy anthology edited by Harris, Pratt, and Waters.
Getting Acquainted with MEAD
#1: Genesis of the Self [HPW]:
To become a self, an individual must become and object-to-herself. She does this
by taking the attitudes of the others who are involved in her life and conduct—by taking
the role of the “generalized other.” Cf. the role-taking that occurs in a child’s “play.”
Then move to the more complex case of a “game.” Then move to the case of the vocal
gesture—the gesture which can call out in the self the same response it calls out in the
other (thus generating a shared repertoire of responses, and … generating social
organization). In sum: we must be others to be ourselves. Any self is a social self.
#2: Vocal Gesture and Significant Symbol:
Consider an incipient dog-fight as an exchange of gestures. … Then contrast this
with, e.g., the exchanges of songbirds. In other words, contrast the dog-fight with vocal
gestures which can call out in the user the same response they call out in others. In this
latter case, we have “significant symbols.” (NB: And in this case, the responses have
double “weight”; they are able to organize and reorganize the ongoing social process to a
much larger degree.) … I.e., these responses, the ones that amount to significant
symbols, contribute more to rendering the life-process a self-organizing, self-controlled,
self-directed process.
#3: Play, Games, and the Generalized Other:
We’re still asking about the background factors in the genesis of the self.
The self is not the immediate organism. Rather, it’s a sort of thing-like “double.”
Cf. the child’s imaginary playmates.
In play I become another to myself (and organize myself in response to this other.
But that’s, so far, just a minimum of organization). In a game, I take the role of all the
others; this more completely organizes my responses. I become a more whole, organized
self. I become more fully self-conscious. I.e., I acquire my unity of self by taking the
attitude of the generalized other.
#4: Ethics:
The need for uprightness comes not from external sources or transcendental
ideals; it comes from the fact that a community’s activities demand “an economy,
effectiveness, and consistence” that are not otherwise achieved.
The power to mediate action (and ameliorate processes or situations) must arise
out of the struggle to act, and in the fullness of immediate experience.
We must look to the social interests within current experience, for there is power
to be found in those that have been overlooked. We should attend, be perceptive,
reinterpret situations, find new facts! Then form new working hypotheses. Keep moving
between perceiving more closely what’s already there, and adjusting our habits of
interpretation and response. And look to the consequences of our responses, in order to
make concrete valuations.