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<ul><li><p>1 </p><p>GEORGE HERBERT MEAD AS AN EMPIRICALLY RESPONSIBLE PHILOSOPHER </p><p>The Philosophy of the Act Reconsidered </p><p>Erkki Kilpinen </p><p>Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki </p><p>DRAFT - please do not quote verbatim! </p><p>Cognition is a process of finding out something that is problematical, not of entering into a relation with a world that is there. </p><p>George Herbert Mead </p><p>1. Meads posthumous reputation as a problem </p><p>The first obstacle to meet a scholar who approaches George Herbert Mead is his scattered </p><p>reputation. Paradoxically, Mead has been almost too well received in a problem field that was </p><p>not originally his own, in social sciences, whereas he is scarcely known in the field that was </p><p>his own, in systematic philosophy. Both of these assertions require some specification. </p><p>Regarding philosophy, of course one cannot claim that Mead is completely forgotten there. </p><p>Comprehensive collective volumes on American philosophy and its history, like the ones </p><p>edited by Shook and Margolis (2006) or Misak (2008), do contain articles by leading Mead </p><p>scholars who discuss him informatively. In spite of this, however, knowledge about what </p><p>kind of problems Mead actually was dealing with in his lifetime has not spread widely </p><p>enough outside the circle of specialists, while it in my opinion would not only deserve more </p><p>attention but would be beneficial for contemporary scholars to be familiar with. As far as </p></li><li><p>2 </p><p>social sciences are concerned, I think that the pioneering Mead scholar Hans Joas (1997: 266) </p><p>has defined the situation well: </p><p>Despite his considerable interest in the social sciences, Mead never dreamed of </p><p>becoming a sociologist. As he was elevated since his death into a classical </p><p>figure in the discipline of sociology, he paid for this unrequested honour by the </p><p>fragmentary sociological and philosophical reception of his work. </p><p> However, the problem in Meads reception is not merely its fragmentary </p><p>character as such. There also seems to be some systematic bias in it, so that scholars tend to </p><p>approach him with unfounded presuppositions. These presuppositions have originated during </p><p>the time when he or rather his name was better remembered among sociologists than </p><p>philosophers. Praise and blame for this state of affairs both belong to Meads former student, </p><p>the sociologist Herbert Blumer (1900-1987). Praise, because he insistently kept up some of </p><p>Meads ideas and saved them from oblivion during the time between 1950s to 1970s when </p><p>positivism dominated philosophy and sociology, and the danger of Meads oblivion was real. </p><p>Blame, because the approach to sociology and social psychology that Blumer (1937) initiated </p><p>and to which he gave a name, symbolic interactionism, deviated from Meads original </p><p>assumptions at certain points but was influential enough to create an image about him.1 The </p><p>deviation is, briefly put, in that Blumer did not sufficiently bring out Meads basically </p><p>naturalist position. This shortcoming is the source of those biased preconceptions that I </p><p>mentioned and it has influenced not only social scientists, but also some philosophers. </p><p>In what sense exactly is there a point in noting about this? If Mead is an </p><p>important thinker, as I am claiming in this paper, does it matter if he is better remembered by </p><p> 1 In a posthumously published volume Blumer (2003) provides his own summary of Meads message. </p></li><li><p>3 </p><p>social scientists than philosophers, and does his image need to be so exactly accurate? There </p><p>are competing interpretations around about, say, John Dewey, as we know. My answer is that </p><p>Meads general reputation has prevented many philosophers from seeing that his philosophy </p><p>of mind can be taken as a parallel but also as an alternative conception to that of </p><p>Wittgensteins, for example. Meads is more explicitly social, to begin with, and has at least </p><p>as solid empirical foundation. However, I do not mean that philosophy is a profounder study </p><p>than, say, sociology. The opposite may just as well be true if any truth is conceivable on </p><p>this kind of question. But it is a fact that Meads reputation has suffered due from his one-</p><p>sided original reception. My point also continues in that the loss is not so much Meads, who </p><p>is dead anyway, but more so of contemporary philosophys. Ultimately, contemporary social </p><p>scientists will also be losing, if they do not update their image of Mead. By approaching </p><p>Mead from a viewpoint that is closer to his own, they might gain invaluable insight into the </p><p>foundations of their disciplines. To explain the situation in social sciences in closer detail, I </p><p>draw distinction between sociology and social psychology and treat them separately. </p><p>In textbooks and anthologies on sociological theory and its history, one </p><p>frequently runs into Meads name, often with a summary of what the author takes his main </p><p>message to be. These summaries are curious, in that they often do sum up a theory but it is </p><p>not Meads. What they manage to depict, unwittingly, is usually the views of Meads </p><p>contemporary American thinker, the sociologist Charles Cooley (1864-1929). The two knew </p><p>and appreciated each other, but their theoretical views are not completely of one cloth. The </p><p>situation does not change very much if one moves to discus more advanced literature in </p><p>sociological theory. Mead, Jrgen Habermas says (1984: 399), belongs together with </p><p>mile Durkheim and Max Weber to the generation of the founding fathers of modern </p><p>sociology. Yes, of course he belongs to that generation biographically, but whether he is to </p></li><li><p>4 </p><p>be treated as one of the founders of sociology, is quite another question. Habermas thinks that </p><p>he is so to be treated and develops the first outlines of his theory of communicative action, his </p><p>main interest in that mammoth work, by referring extensively on Mead. One central term that </p><p>he uses throughout the book is intersubjectivity. Indeed, Mead has contributed to the </p><p>understanding of intersubjectivity, but not in a sociological sense, and not in the sense of </p><p>communicative action that Habermas ascribes to him.2 In Meads conception human </p><p>intersubjectivity though he never uses this more recent term, as far as I know emerges in </p><p>concomitance with instrumental action, and is something that a notion of communication </p><p>needs to presuppose, not its outcome. However, one can also meet such an author, who thinks </p><p>that Meads conception is excessively intersubjective (though she does not use this word), and </p><p>leads to an over-socialized conception of man. This is the thesis of Margaret Archer (2003), </p><p>who interestingly but to my mind erroneously tries to alleviate the excessive sociality in </p><p>Mead by drawing on Charles Peirce. It is a good thing that the names of classical pragmatists </p><p>become more familiar even among sociologists, but Archers attempt to build a theory of self </p><p>on Peirces conceptions is a non-starter, to quote her own pejorative expression (2003: 79). </p><p>In studying human social life at the empirical level Mead is of more relevance than Peirce, </p><p>though not in an empirically sociological sense. (I have compared Mead and Peirce in </p><p>Kilpinen 2002; for a more detailed criticism of Archer in the above sense, see Gronow 2008). </p><p> The literary corpus for which Mead is best known consists of lectures on social </p><p>psychology that he gave at the University of Chicago during a period of thirty years, and of </p><p>which two sets of notes (one of them stenographic) have later been edited into books (MSS, </p><p> 2 Habermas has much corrected his interpretation of Mead at a later try, in Individualization through socialization (1987/1992), where he compares Mead with other classic philosophers. However, he still asserts (1992: 161) Mead to have shifted philosophical concepts from the basis of consciousness onto the foundation of language. This is erroneous; Mead situates philosophical concepts upon action, so that even speech and language are to be understood as forms of action (cf. e.g. Mead MSS: 74, 124, 335). </p></li><li><p>5 </p><p>1934; ISS, 1982). 3 However, as he called his subject matter social psychology, this did not </p><p>refer to any then-new social discipline; it rather referred to the universality of the subject </p><p>matter. For him, human sociality is not a field for application for psychology, but is rather </p><p>presupposed by psychology as much as biology or physiology is generally supposed to be, </p><p>as Joas (1985: 98) states the matter. His point is that of empirical disciplines dealing with </p><p>humans and their behaviour, it is psychology rather than sociology that comes closest to </p><p>Meads theoretical intent. </p><p> The British Mead scholar Robert Farr agrees with this idea and has carried the </p><p>thesis further. As points out in dramatic terms (1996: 70), Mead solved a problem that [other] </p><p>psychologists did not even recognize to exist. Which problem might be so enigmatic? It was </p><p>and still is the idea that the human mind is intersubjectively constituted, and the realization </p><p>that the way to understanding this does not begin from individual subjectivity. The way rather </p><p>begins from human individuals doing things together and thus being in inherent, not </p><p>contingent, interaction with each other and with their material world at the same time. The </p><p>idea of interaction with the material world might arouse behaviouristic associations to a </p><p>readers mind, but they are not called for. Farr makes even another important point by noting </p><p>(1996: 71) that from Meads perspective, behaviourism is merely the other side of Cartesian </p><p>dualism. I agree and in this paper attempt to develop these insights further, and to show that </p><p>Mead has been much ahead of his time in dealing with problems of cognition, subjectivity, </p><p>intersubjectivity, and their correct order. Namely, his original hypotheses have in many </p><p>senses received ample corroboration, not to say verification, by recent empirical research. </p><p> 3 In this paper, I use abbreviations about book titles under Meads author name, as follows: PP = The Philosophy of the Present (1932); MSS = Mind, Self and Society, from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (1934); MT = Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1936); PA = The Philosophy of the Act (1938); SW = George Herbert Mead: Selected Writings (1964); ISS = The Individual and the Social Self (1982). While referring to SW, I also give the original publication year of the cited article. </p></li><li><p>6 </p><p>The reason why I find this important, both philosophically and for social </p><p>sciences is the following. Meads contributions make him an indispensably important </p><p>member in the quartet of classic American pragmatists, besides his predecessors Peirce, </p><p>William James and John Dewey. Without his presence its general argument may seem a bit </p><p>unfinished, regardless of how much one appreciates Peirces logic and semiotics, or Deweys </p><p>comprehensive purview of all things human (I personally appreciate them very highly). </p><p>Meads philosophy not only goes well together with that of his pragmatist brethren, but in </p><p>some cases adds the needed capstone to the corpus. For example, although Peirces famous </p><p>thesis that all thought is in signs ultimately points to the conclusion that the human mind is </p><p>intersubjectively constituted, it is Mead who spells this out at the empirical level, as we shall </p><p>see below. Assertions about internal inconsistencies among classic pragmatists that one </p><p>occasionally hears also lose much of their thrust if Mead is included. His philosophy namely </p><p>serves as mediator between the others. It overlaps with them, yet is independent and </p><p>irreducible to any of them. In the currently prolific literature on pragmatism, even friends of </p><p>the approach often harm their own case, by neglecting Meads contributions. As a </p><p>consequence, they sometimes assume an unnecessarily defensive attitude when pragmatism is </p><p>compared with positivist-analytic philosophy and/or phenomenology. Meads contribution </p><p>rounds out the pragmatist argument; in a sense even manages to keep some promises that his </p><p>fellow-pragmatists gave but did not keep themselves. Before I move to discuss those </p><p>promises I have yet to give a brief word about their context. </p><p>2. What is philosophy of the act and what is empirical responsibility? </p><p>Mead scholars know that though there exists a book with the title The Philosophy of the Act </p><p>(1938) under Meads author name, the title or the contents of the volume are not his own </p></li><li><p>7 </p><p>choice. That volume is a collage that Charles W. Morris and his assistants put together from </p><p>different materials left extant after Meads sudden death in 1931. Although Morris (1901-</p><p>1979) studied philosophy under Mead and presented himself as the latters faithful follower </p><p>(cf. Morris 1971: 445), his credibility as Meads editor has often been put to question. </p><p>Leading Mead scholars Hans Joas (1985) and Gary A. Cook (1993) both remark that Morriss </p><p>editorial decisions are not always to be trusted. Indeed, the point was made already earlier, as </p><p>John Dewey and Arthur Bentley noted in their mutual correspondence (1964: 70-71 [1939]) </p><p>about the dumbness of Meads editors, referring in particular to the then recent Philosophy </p><p>of the Act. Its editorial decisions are indeed arbitrary in that it contains both student notes </p><p>from Meads classes (though only a few in this collage) and his own original texts side by </p><p>side, sometimes without sufficient clarification. But I think that the title itself is not so ill-</p><p>chosen, although Mead apparently has never sat down to write a book under that heading. </p><p>However, would one give a name to Meads philosophy as a whole, then philosophy of the </p><p>act would not be the worst choice. In this paper I use the term in this sense. As I claim to be </p><p>reconsidering the philosophy of the act, I mean Meads philosophy in general, not that </p><p>particular book, although I shall refer to it too. </p><p>As Morris and others remark in their introduction to the book (p. vii), there is an </p><p>occasion when Mead has taken a look at philosophical disciplines as a whole, with the act </p><p>as his organizing principle. This happened in his early article Suggestions toward a Theory </p><p>of the Philosophical Disciplines (1900), where he considered various philosophical fields of </p><p>study from the viewpoint of how they bear on human action. This, however, brings us to the </p><p>fact that Meads conception of human action is not quite what is ordinary in philosophy or </p><p>sociology. He is one of those rare thinkers who do not take what might be sarcastically called </p><p>mind-first explanation of action as the only possible starting point. In view of the fact this </p></li><li><p>8 </p><p>supposition has been paradigmatic elsewhere in philosophy and social sciences (details of </p><p>course vary), the unique character of Meads position begins to dawn on us. He is one of </p><p>those few who have been able to see beyond the mind-first model, and to pro...</p></li></ul>


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