Mead, George Herbert 1863-1931

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MEAD, George Herbert 1863-1931

PERSONAL: Born February 27, 1863, in South Hadley, MA; died April 26, 1931, in Chicago, IL; son of Hiram (a pastor) and Elizabeth Storrs (Billings) Mead; married Elizabeth Kingsbury Castle, October 1, 1891; children: Henry Castle Albert. Education: Oberlin College, graduated, 1883; Harvard University, graduated, 1888; studied at University of Berlin and University of Leipzig, 1888-91.

CAREER: Philosopher, social psychologist, and professor. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, taught philosophy, 1891-93; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, assistant professor, 1894-1902, associate professor, 1902-07, professor of philosophy, 1907-31.


A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and inOther Cities, City Club of Chicago (Chicago, IL), 1912.

The Definition of the Psychical, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1903.

The Philosophy of the Present, edited by Arthur E. Murphy, Open Court Publishing Company (Chicago, IL), 1932.

Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a SocialBehaviorist, edited by Charles W. Morris, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1934.

Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Merritt H. Moore, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1936.

The Philosophy of the Act, edited by Charles W. Morris, John M. Brewster, and Albert M. Dunham, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1938.

The Social Psychology of George Herbert Mead, edited by Anselm Strauss, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1956.

On Social Psychology: Selected Papers, edited by Anselm Strauss, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1964.

Selected Writings, edited by Andrew J. Reck, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1964.

The Individual and the Social Self: Unpublished Work of George Herbert Mead, edited by David L. Miller, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1982.

Play, School, and Society, edited by Mary Jo Deegan, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1999.

Essays on Social Psychology, edited by Mary Jo Deegan, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2001.

Mead's works have been translated into German and Japanese.

SIDELIGHTS: Regarded as one of the most influential scholars of social psychology of his day, George Herbert Mead spent much of his academic career as a professor at the University of Chicago. During his lifetime, Mead published only occasionally, limiting his output to articles and reviews, but shortly after his death, four volumes of Mead's lectures and various manuscripts were published: The Philosophy of the Present, Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century, and The Philosophy of the Act. Culled from Mead's own writings and lecture notes as well as notes taken by his students, these works outline Mead's philosophy of the self and the role of language and social interaction in the development of the self.

In Mind, Self and Society Mead describes how the individual self and mind arise out of interaction with society. Mead believed that the human mind develops as a result of its interaction with society and the environment, and that it is this outside context that gives the mind an opportunity to realize thought. In turn, thought is dependent on language, giving complexity and interdependence to human experience. According to Mead, this ability to communicate, using symbols commonly understood in society, is what differentiates humans from animals. In The Philosophy of the Present, Mead's writings further expound on his thesis about creative thinking and human society, making a connection between the interaction of the individual and the environment to the evolutionary process.

Widely regarded for his thoughts on social psychology and philosophy among his own colleagues, Mead's theories have been studied in a wide variety of arenas, including linguistic, psychology, as well as educational theory and practice. However, despite his influence on contemporaries such as John Dewey and Charles S. Pierce, Mead's work has remained largely unappreciated by most scholars. In a Journal of Philosophy essay discussing Mead's influence on his own work, as well as social psychology in general, Dewey attributed this lack of appreciation to Mead's inability to express his ideas on paper. He said that although Mead's "philosophy often found utterance in technical form . . . it was often not easy to follow his thought; he gained clarity of verbal expression . . . gradually and through constant effort."

The Philosophy of the Present was one of the first editions of Mead's writings to be issued. In his work, said Arthur E. Murphy in the Journal of Philosophy, is included the most exhaustive collection of Mead's philosophic doctrines, causing the work to be an "important volume" in making his work "accessible to a wider public." Murphy noted that since the material was not intended for publication by Mead, many of the ideas included in The Philosophy of the Present are not formulated completely; despite difficulties inherent in the manuscripts, it is "the more difficult and fragmentary passages [that] are frequently the most illuminating."

Regardless of the complexity inherent in Mead's thought, the publication of his work resulted in a renewed interest in his theories. In a review of Mind, Self, and Society for the American Journal of Sociology, Ellsworth Faris noted that Mead had the ability to "see relations and gain insights which gave to familiar facts an undiscovered significance." While Faris took issue with the arrangement of the material in Mind, Self, and Society, faulting the editors for reorganizing the essays in a manner inconsistent with Mead's mode of thought, he acknowledged the publication of the work as an event that would "bring to the attention of scholars the work of one of the most original men of our generation."



Petras, John W., editor, George Herbert Mead: Essays on His Social Philosophy, Teachers College Press (New York, NY), 1968.


American Journal of Sociology, May, 1936, Ellsworth Faris, review of Mind, Self, and Society, pp. 809-813.

Hypatia, spring, 1993, Mitchell Aboulafia, "Was George Herbert Mead a Feminist?" p. 145.

Journal of Economic Issues, March, 1998, Alexa Albert and Yngve Ramstad, "The Concordance of George Herbert Mead's 'Social Self' and John R. Commons's Will," pp. 1-46.

Journal of Philosophy, June 4, 1931, John Dewey, "George Herbert Mead," pp. 309-314; February 16, 1939, Arthur E. Murphy, "Concerning Mead's The Philosophy of the Act," pp. 85-103.

Social Service Review, March, 1932, T. V. Smith, "George Herbert Mead and the Philosophy of Philanthropy," pp. 37-54.

Sociological Quarterly, spring, 1998, Douglas Ezzy, "Theorizing Narrative Identity: Symbolic Interactionism and Hermeneutics," p. 239.*