The Social Self
Source: The Mead Project. Department of Sociology, Brock University.
Read: at the Western Philosophical Association AGM, March, 1913;
First Published: George Herbert Mead. “The Social Self”, Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 10, 1913: 374-380;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.
Recognizing that the self can not appear in consciousness as an “I,” that it is always an object, i.e., a “me,” I wish to suggest an answer to the question, What is involved in the self being an object? The first answer may be that an object involves a subject. Stated in other words, that a “me” is inconceivable without an “I.” And to this reply must be made that such an “I” is a presupposition, but never a presentation of conscious experience, for the moment it is presented it has passed into the objective case, presuming, if you like, an “I” that observes – but an “I” that can disclose himself only by ceasing to be the subject for whom the object “me” exists. It is, of course, not the Hegelism of a self that becomes another to himself in which I am interested, but the nature of the self as revealed by introspection and subject to our factual analysis. This analysis does reveal, then, in a memory process an attitude of observing oneself in which both the observer and the observed appear. To be concrete, one remembers asking himself how he could undertake to do this, that, or the other, chiding himself for his shortcomings or pluming himself upon his achievements. Thus, in the redintegrated self of the moment passed, one finds both a subject and an object, but it is a subject that is now an object of observation, and has the same nature as the object self whom we present as in intercourse with those about us. In quite the same fashion we remember the questions, admonitions, and approvals addressed to our fellows. But the subject attitude which we instinctively take can be presented only as something experienced – as we can be conscious of our acts only through the sensory processes set up after the act has begun. The contents of this presented subject, who thus has become an object in being presented, but which still distinguish him as the subject of the passed experience from the “me” whom he addressed, are those images which initiated the conversation and the motor sensations which accompany the expression, plus the organic sensations and the response of the whole system to the activity initiated. In a word, just those contents which go to make up the self which is distinguished from the others whom he addresses. The self appearing as “I” is the memory image self who acted toward himself and is the same self who acts toward other selves. On the other hand, the stuff that goes to make up the “me” whom the “I” addresses and whom he observes, is the experience which is induced by this action of the “I.” If the “I” speaks, the “me” hears. If the “I” strikes, the “me” feels the blow. Here again the “me” consciousness is of the same character as that which arises from the action of the other upon him. That is, it is only as the individual finds himself acting with reference to himself as he acts towards others, that he becomes a subject to himself rather than an object, and only as he is affected by his own social conduct in the manner in which he is affected by that of others, that he becomes an object to his own social conduct. The differences in our memory presentations of the “I” and the “me” are those of the memory images of the initiated social conduct and those of the sensory responses thereto. It is needless, in view of the analysis of Baldwin, of Royce and of Cooley and many others, to do more than indicate that these reactions arise earlier in our social conduct with others than in introspective self-consciousness, i.e., that the infant consciously calls the attention of others before he calls his own attention by affecting himself and that he is consciously affected by others before he is conscious...
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