George Herbert Mead Criticism - Essay

John Dewey (essay date 1931)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Herbert Mead," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXVIII, No. 12, June 4, 1931, pp. 309-14.

[In the following essay, Dewey discusses Mead's influence on social psychology and reflects on their personal relationship.]

As I look back over the years of George Mead's life, and try to sum up the impression which his personality left upon me, I seem to find running through everything a sense of energy, of vigor, of a vigor unified, outgoing and outgiving. Yet as I say this I am aware that perhaps only those who knew him best have a similar impression. For there was nothing about him of the bustle and ado, the impatient hurry, we often associate with vigor. On the contrary he was rather remarkably free from the usual external signs of busy activity. He was not one to rush about breathless with the conviction that he must somehow convince others of his activity. It was rather that he threw himself completely into whatever he had to do in all the circumstances and relations which life brought to him. He gave himself with a single heart to whatever the day and the moment brought. When anything needed to be done, there was no distinction in his life between the important and the unimportant; not that he was careless and undiscriminating, but that whatever really needed to be done, whatever made a demand upon him, was important enough to call out his full vigor. If he did not give the impression of bustling energy, it was precisely because in all that he did his energy was so completely engaged and so unified from within. He faced everything as it came along; incidents were opportunities for reflection to terminate in decision. One can fancy him perplexed temporarily in thought by the complexities of some issue; one can not imagine him hesitant to meet the issue or shillyshallying in meeting it. His consciousness never sicklied over the scene of decision and action; it completely and inwardly identified itself with it. It might be household duties, it might be the needs of a friend, or of the physical and mental needs of the many young persons that he and Mrs. Mead gathered about them! It might be his reading, his study, his reflection, his recreations, tramps, and travels. In each occasion as it arose there was found the natural opportunity for the free and vital release of his powers.

For his vigor was unified from within, by and from the fullness of his own being. More, I think, than any man I have ever known, his original nature and what he acquired and learned, were one and the same thing. It is the tendency of philosophic study to create a separation between what is native, spontaneous, and unconscious and the results of reading and reflection. That split never existed in George Mead. His study, his ideas, his never ceasing reflection and theory were the manifestation of his large and varied natural being. He was extraordinarily free from not only inner suppressions and the divisions they produce, but from all the artificialities of culture. Doubtless like the rest of us he had his inner doubts, perplexities, and depressions. But the unconscious and spontaneous vigor of his personality consumed and assimilated these things in the buoyant and nevertheless tranquil outgivings of thought and action.

He experienced great difficulty in finding adequate verbal expression for his philosophical ideas. His philosophy often found utterance in technical form. In the early years especially it was often not easy to follow his thought; he gained clarity of verbal expression of his philosophy gradually and through constant effort. Yet this fact is evidence of the unity of his philosophy and his own native being. For him philosophy was less acquired from without, a more genuine development from within, than in the case of any thinker I have known. If he had borrowed his ideas from without, he could have borrowed his language from the same source, and in uttering ideas that were already current, saying with some different emphasis what was already in other persons' minds, he would easily have been understood. But his mind was deeply original—in my contacts and my judgment the most original mind in philosophy in the America of the last generation. From some cause of which we have no knowledge concerning genuinely original minds, he had early in life an intuition, an insight in advance of his day. Of necessity, there was not ready and waiting for him any language in which to express it. Only as the thoughts of others gradually caught up with what he felt and saw could he articulate himself. Yet his native vigor was such that he never thought of ceasing the effort. He was of such a sociable nature that he must have been disappointed by the failure of others to understand him, but he never allowed it to discourage his efforts to make his ideas intelligible to others. And while in recent years his efforts were crowned with success, there was no time in which his mind was not so creative that anyone in contact with it failed to get stimulation; there was a new outlook upon life and the world that continued to stir and bring forth fruit in one's own thought. His mind was germinative and seminal. One would have to go far to find a teacher of our own day who started in others so many fruitful lines of thought; I dislike to think what my own thinking might have been were it not for the seminal ideas which I derived from him. For his ideas were always genuinely original; they started one thinking in directions where it had never occurred to one that it was worth while even to look.

There was a certain diffidence which restrained George Mead from much publication. But even more than that there was the constant activity of his mind as it moved out into new fields; there were always new phases of his own ideas germinating within him. More than any one I have known he maintained a continuity of ideas with constant development. In my earliest days of contact with him, as he returned from his studies in Berlin forty years ago, his...

(The entire section is 2459 words.)

C. J. Bittner (essay date 1931)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "G. H. Mead's Social Concept of the Self," in Sociology and Social Research, Vol. XVI, September October, 1931, pp. 6-22.

[In the following essay, Bittner explores the most notable features of Mead's theory of self]

The death of Dr. George Herbert Mead of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Chicago is a great loss to modern philosophy and contemporary social thought. In him the academic world has lost one of its most profound thinkers. Though his writings are not numerous, he has exercised, nevertheless, a profound and lasting influence upon American social thought. During the long years of his professorial career Dr. Mead has been instrumental in...

(The entire section is 5002 words.)

T. V. Smith (essay date 1932)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Herbert Mead and the Philosophy of Philanthropy," in The Social Service Review, Vol. VI, No. 1, March, 1932, pp. 37-54.

[In the following essay, Smith elucidates Mead's theory of philanthropy in light of his ideas on the individual, community, and socialization.]

Next to the highly satisfying romanticism of an idealism that identifies what is with what ought to be, would come the pragmatic claim that what is implies what ought to be. Success or failure in vindicating such a claim would reverberate far in the social sciences. Almost a quarter of a century ago George Herbert Mead was already so sensitive to the crucial significance, for the social...

(The entire section is 6934 words.)

T. V. Smith (essay date 1932)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Religious Bearings of a Secular Mind: George Herbert Mead," in The Journal of Religion, Vol. XII, No. 2, April, 1932, pp. 200-13.

[In the following essay, Smith relates Mead's religious background to his philosophical ideas.]

George Herbert Mead built upon secular foundations a mind and personality and philosophy so wholesomely virile as constantly to seem to exemplify and celebrate in daily living the finest human emotions. To religious men who are at the same time statesmen of the modern spirit he has therefore more to offer than a substantial reminder of what as thinkers and teachers they are up against. He has a formula of life prepotent to engender...

(The entire section is 4949 words.)

Ellsworth Faris (essay date 1936)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Mind, Self, and Society, in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. XLI, No. 6, May, 1936, pp. 809-13.

[In the following essay, Faris praises Mead's significant contribution to social psychology as evinced in Mind, Self, and Society.]

Few men of his day lived life more fully than George Mead and fewer still were better qualified to write about it. He was an active participant in civic organizations, took his duties as a citizen seriously, and had traveled far and often so that nothing human was alien. He had read and remembered the books—all the important books in every department of philosophy, the social sciences, and mathematics, not...

(The entire section is 1848 words.)

Charles Hartshorne (essay date 1937)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mead and Alexander on Time," in Beyond Humanism: Essays in the Philosophy of Nature, University of Nebraska Press, 1968, pp. 242-52.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1937, Hartshorne contrasts Mead's philosophy of time with that of S. Alexander, concluding that Alexander's theory is "the only carefully elaborated, honest attempt . . . to work out a non-psychic metaphysics which the twentieth century has so far witnessed. "]

George Herbert Mead was a great philosopher and certainly a humanist. Until his Philosophy of the Act has been published it will be too soon to pass judgment on his philosophy. But there are some...

(The entire section is 3528 words.)

Charles W. Morris (essay date 1938)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Peirce, Mead, and Pragmatism," in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 278, March, 1938, pp. 109-27.

[In the following essay, Morris traces the progression of pragmatism by comparing the early metaphysical idealism of Charles Pierce to Mead's later empirical naturalist approach.]


In recent years we have had spread before us the results of the intellectual labors of Charles S. Peirce and George H. Mead. In the same period John Dewey has rounded out the implications of his views for esthetics, religion, and political theory, and has given us a glimpse of the reformulation and systematization of his logical doctrine. William James'...

(The entire section is 7123 words.)

Arthur E. Murphy (essay date 1939)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Concerning Mead's The Philosophy of the Act," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, February 16, 1939, pp. 85-103.

[In the following essay, Murphy attempts to explicate ambiguous areas in Mead's The Philosophy of the Act.]

With the appearance of this important volume [The Philosophy of the Act] one major phase in the task of making Mead's philosophic doctrines accessible to a wider public than that of his own colleagues and pupils is completed. The editors tell us that "except for a large body of student notes, which contain much of interest on Mr. Mead's interpretation of the history of ideas, the present material exhausts all the...

(The entire section is 8512 words.)

Kenneth Burke (essay date 1941)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Herbert Mead," in The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, Revised Edition, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 379-82.

[In the following essay, which originally appeared in The New Republic in 1941, Burke offers a mixed review of Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century.]

The publishers of these posthumous documents [Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century] print Whitehead's endorsement as follows: "I regard the publication of the volumes containing the late Professor George Herbert Mead's researches as of the highest importance for philosophy. I entirely agree with Professor John Dewey's estimate,...

(The entire section is 1302 words.)

Grace A. de Laguna (essay date 1946)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Communication, The Act, and The Object with Reference to Mead," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLIII, No. 9, April 25, 1946, pp. 225-38.

[In the following essay, de Laguna provides a critical analysis of a few of the central ideas of Mead's philosophy that she deems confused and inadequate, such as human acts, cooperation, and communication.]

Whether John Dewey's estimate of George H. Mead as a seminal mind of the first order is acceptable or not, few will deny the importance of his thought or its continuing influence. It is because I have found his writings stimulating and provocative, and at the same time confusing if not confused, that I have been led...

(The entire section is 6820 words.)

David L. Miller (essay date 1947)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Comments and Criticism: De Laguna's Interpretation of G. H. Mead," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLIV, No. 6, March 13, 1947, pp. 158-62.

[In the following essay, Miller responds to de Laguna's criticism of Mead's philosophy, asserting de Laguna's analysis is irrelevant, trivial, and lacks perspective.]

It would be surprising indeed if Mead's immediate students would allow Professor de Laguna's interpretation of Mead to pass without further comment. She speaks of Mead's failures, inadequacies, and fundamental fallacies without, I think, having Mead's broader perspective and problems in mind. Mrs. de Laguna says she is "not concerned to discuss here the...

(The entire section is 1994 words.)

Van Meter Ames (essay date 1956)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mead and Sartre on Man," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LIII, No. 6, March 15, 1956, pp. 205-19.

[In the following essay, Ames contrasts Mead's view of man with that of Jean-Paul Sartre.]

Mead and Sartre have much in common. Both think of life as process and transition, taking time and moving into a future that requires constant revision of the past, so that nothing is ever settled and anything can be thrown into question. But Mead relies on the life-sciences; Sartre would like to reject them in favor of a supposed higher outlook. The reason is that his nineteenth or seventeenth century notion of science, including psychology, is mechanistic and...

(The entire section is 6632 words.)

Paul Tibbetts (essay date 1974)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mead's Theory of the Act and Perception: Some Empirical Confirmations," in The Personalist, Vol. LV, No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 115-38.

[In the following essay, Tibbetts explores Mead's theory of the act and suggests how it can be used to interpret recent findings in experimental psychology. ]


To students of recent American philosophy George Herbert Mead presents a paradox, for whereas Dewey and Whitehead recognized Mead as perhaps this country's most profound and original thinker, his writings largely continue to be ignored by most philosophers today. Though substantial work has been done on Mead's place in the history of...

(The entire section is 12165 words.)

William P. Nye (essay date 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Herbert Mead and the Paradox of Prediction," in Sociological Analysis, Vol. 38, No. 2, Summer, 1977, pp. 91-105.

[In the following essay, Nye discusses the more obscure ideas of Mead's philosophy, and places them in context with Mead's better known work.]

It has been stated and reiterated that George Herbert Mead has become the captive of his interpreters (Natanson, 1956:2; Douglas, 1970:17). The purpose of this essay is to initiate a metaphorical liberation of Mead from his social psychological captivity. However, this is not another attempt to unearth what Mead "really meant" when he speaks of the social self, the "I," the "me," the "generalized...

(The entire section is 8387 words.)

Clarence J. Karier (essay date 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In Search of Self in a Moral Universe: Notes on George Herbert Mead's Functionalist Theory of Morality," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XLV, No. 1, January-March, 1984, pp. 153-61.

[In the following essay, Karier maintains that despite Mead's secular outlook, "he nonetheless depended heavily on certain key assumptions from his Christian past with which to fashion his new secular liberal reformist view of the world. "]

George Herbert Mead was born and reared in a heavily saturated Christian environment. His father was a clergyman who taught homiletics at the Theological Seminary at Oberlin College, and his mother was educated at the Seminary at...

(The entire section is 4972 words.)

Thomas Natsoulas (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Herbert Mead's Conception of Consciousness," in Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, Vol. 15, No. 1, March, 1985, pp. 60-75.

[In the following essay, Natsoulas provides an analysis of Mead's two main concepts of consciousness and their relation to one another.]

Efforts have been underway for some time to integrate into social science George Herbert Mead's contributions to our understanding of mind, self, and society. Such efforts have not yet ended for excellent reasons pertaining to the depth, richness, and repeatedly renewed relevance of Mead's theories. However, a currently relevant approach to Mead's contributions has not been exploited due to...

(The entire section is 7331 words.)

John D. Baldwin (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mead's Solution to the Problem of Agency," in Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 58, No. 2, Spring, 1988, pp. 139-62.

[In the following essay, Baldwin investigates Mead's idea of agency, and explores his analytical method.]

The thesis of this paper is that George Herbert Mead's pragmatism provides a valuable approach to the topic of agency, avoiding many of the problems that typically surround this issue. The question of agency—do human actors have autonomy and the ability to exercise free and creative choices—is at the center of several important controversies in sociology, such as the stand-off between the positivists and antipositivists, the disputes over...

(The entire section is 10600 words.)

John D. Baldwin (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mead and Skinner: Agency and Determinism," in Behaviorism: A Forum for Critical Discussion, Vol. 16, No. 2, Fall, 1988, pp. 109-62.

[In the following essay, Baldwin compares Mead's ideas on agency and determinism to B. F. Skinner's, and finds considerable similarities in their scientific reasoning.]

With some behaviorists heeding the "call to cognition" (Deitz & Arrington, 1984; Morris, 1985), behaviorists are raising increasing numbers of questions about the role of thought, deliberate action, agency and determinism in behavioral theories. Most methodological behaviorists and radical behaviorists equate agency with free will, which they reject (Zuriff,...

(The entire section is 10725 words.)

Andrew Feffer (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sociability and Social Conflict in George Herbert Mead's Interactionism, 1900-1919," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 51, No. 2, April-June, 1990, pp. 233-54.

[In the following essay, Feffer places Mead's philosophy in the political and cultural context of the Chicago reform culture at the turn of the twentieth century.]

During the 1970s and 80s philosophers, psychologists, and intellectual historians revived the Pragmatist tradition in American philosophy. They devoted the greater share of study to the work of Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey. A number of scholars, however, also participated in a minor but persistent revival of interest in the work of...

(The entire section is 9709 words.)

Sandra B. Rosenthal (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Free Selves, Enriched Values, and Experimental Method: Mead's Pragmatic Synthesis," in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, March, 1992, pp. 79-93.

[In the following essay, Rosenthal views the intertwining of Mead's notions of individuality, freedom, and creativity with biological activity and experimental method as imperative for a full understanding of his concept of self]

The philosophy of G. H. Mead is firmly rooted within the mainstream of classical American pragmatism. He maintained an ongoing philosophic exchange with John Dewey over a period of many years, and as part of the Chicago school of pragmatism was influenced from various...

(The entire section is 8389 words.)

Gary A. Cook (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Development of Mead's Social Psychology," in George Herbert Mead: The Making of a Social Pragmatist, University of Illinois Press, 1993, pp. 48-66.

[In the following essay, Cook traces the origins of Mead's social psychological work and urges a fuller appreciation of his innovative ideas in the field of human social conduct.]

The least neglected facet of Mead's much neglected contribution to American thought has been his social psychology. Even here, however, interest has generally been restricted to certain portions of the posthumously published Mind, Self and Society. This volume, which is based primarily upon stenographic student notes taken in...

(The entire section is 7945 words.)