A radical theory of the self
In his book Mind, Self and Society published in 1934, G.H. Mead contends that body and self areseparate and that the self is something reflexive capable of being both object and subject to itself,arising not from the biological organism but rather from the social experience of the individual and thusshaping our personality from the interactions of the social context in which we live
, furthermore,idiosyncrasies and unique characteristics that distinguish each individual are a product of that socialinteraction. He assumes that at birth the individual is a Tabula Rasa,
without built-in mental content andthat our knowledge and experience develops from the social community and other individuals.
Mead’s distinction between the self as a subject and the self as an object to itself contrast sharply with
earlier views from his predecessors who described the self as conscious, a term which was thought toinclude both, subject and object. That interpretation is what make his theory a very distinct social viewof the self and set him apart in the field of social psychology.
Mead’s interpretation of the self and its origins, it should be noted, goes
into asserting that the self develops by bein
g able to take the point of view of others, and what he terms the “generalized other”
becomes the basis for complex social cooperation and a crucial part of the individual own mind. In other
words, the development of the “I” and the “Me” are derived from acquiring a “generalized other”. To
illustrate this point, Mead provides a metaphor: he compares the self as a checkerboard on which the
“Me” is represented by the
the “I” is the player who makes moves and the “generalized other”
is an overhanging light that illuminates the scene making the moves intelligible. To Mead, the mind of the individual is created by society and social processes are real and measurable. That is what makes hiscontribution to the theory of social formation of the self a radical one.
Mead and the Mind-Body conundrum
I shall now turn to a personal assessment
of Mead’s theory.
Does his hypothesis offers a plausible
solution to the individual’s perception of consciousness
in society? It might be argued that it does not,since his theory left unanswered a number of fundamental questions that are essential in attempting toexplain the universality of some behaviors present in the human animal across diverse cultures.