George Herbert Mead

The Work

John Dewey said of George Herbert Mead that he had "the mostoriginal mind in philosophy in the America of the last generation." Thoughthis may have been a slight exaggeration, there seems to be consensus amongstudents of philosophy that Mead ranks in the forefront of the exponents ofpragmatism in America.

Mead, a very modest man, published relatively little. Dewey has remarkedthat "while [he] was an original thinker, he had no sense of being original."This may account for the fact that during his lifetime he was not recognizedas being on the same level of importance as his teacher William James or of hisintimate friend John Dewey. But the posthumous publications of many of hislectures and continued critical interest in his work make it abundantly clearthat Mead has a central position in philosophical thought, linking as he didthe themes first adumbrated by James and Pierce with the philosophical pre-occupations of Dewey, Whitehead, Bergson, and Santayana.

This account is mainly based on Mead's posthumous Mind, Self andSociety and on some of his earlier papers in social psychology, most of whichcan now be found in his Selected Writings. That is, only one facet of Mead'swork will be commented upon here: his contribution to social psychology. Hiswider philosophical concerns--for example, the nature of time in his ThePhilosophy of the Present, his exposition of pragmatism in The Philosophy ofthe Act, and his history of Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Cen-tury--will be dealt with only tangentially.

From Coser, 1977:343-347.


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