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1 GEORGE HERBERT MEAD AS AN EMPIRICALLY RESPONSIBLE PHILOSOPHER The Philosophy of the Act Reconsidered Erkki Kilpinen Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki DRAFT - please do not quote verbatim! Cognition is a process of finding out something that is problematical, not of entering into a relation with a world that is there. George Herbert Mead 1. Mead’s posthumous reputation as a problem The first obstacle to meet a scholar who approaches George Herbert Mead is his scattered reputation. Paradoxically, Mead has been almost too well received in a problem field that was not originally his own, in social sciences, whereas he is scarcely known in the field that was his own, in systematic philosophy. Both of these assertions require some specification. Regarding philosophy, of course one cannot claim that Mead is completely forgotten there. Comprehensive collective volumes on American philosophy and its history, like the ones edited by Shook and Margolis (2006) or Misak (2008), do contain articles by leading Mead scholars who discuss him informatively. In spite of this, however, knowledge about what kind of problems Mead actually was dealing with in his lifetime has not spread widely enough outside the circle of specialists, while it in my opinion would not only deserve more attention but would be beneficial for contemporary scholars to be familiar with. As far as 2 social sciences are concerned, I think that the pioneering Mead scholar Hans Joas (1997: 266) has defined the situation well: Despite his considerable interest in the social sciences, Mead never dreamed of becoming a sociologist. As he was elevated since his death into a classical figure in the discipline of sociology, he paid for this unrequested honour by the fragmentary sociological – and philosophical – reception of his work. However, the problem in Mead’s reception is not merely its fragmentary character as such. There also seems to be some systematic bias in it, so that scholars tend to approach him with unfounded presuppositions. These presuppositions have originated during the time when he – or rather his name – was better remembered among sociologists than philosophers. Praise and blame for this state of affairs both belong to Mead’s former student, the sociologist Herbert Blumer (1900-1987). Praise, because he insistently kept up some of Mead’s ideas and saved them from oblivion during the time between 1950s to 1970s when positivism dominated philosophy and sociology, and the danger of Mead’s oblivion was real. Blame, because the approach to sociology and social psychology that Blumer (1937) initiated and to which he gave a name, ‘symbolic interactionism,’ deviated from Mead’s original assumptions at certain points but was influential enough to create an image about him. 1 The deviation is, briefly put, in that Blumer did not sufficiently bring out Mead’s basically naturalist position. This shortcoming is the source of those biased preconceptions that I mentioned and it has influenced not only social scientists, but also some philosophers. In what sense exactly is there a point in noting about this? If Mead is an important thinker, as I am claiming in this paper, does it matter if he is better remembered by 1 In a posthumously published volume Blumer (2003) provides his own summary of Mead’s message. 3 social scientists than philosophers, and does his image need to be so exactly accurate? There are competing interpretations around about, say, John Dewey, as we know. My answer is that Mead’s general reputation has prevented many philosophers from seeing that his philosophy of mind can be taken as a parallel but also as an alternative conception to that of Wittgenstein’s, for example. Mead’s is more explicitly social, to begin with, and has at least as solid empirical foundation. However, I do not mean that philosophy is a profounder study than, say, sociology. The opposite may just as well be true – if any truth is conceivable on this kind of question. But it is a fact that Mead’s reputation has suffered due from his onesided original reception. My point also continues in that the loss is not so much Mead’s, who is dead anyway, but more so of contemporary philosophy’s. Ultimately, contemporary social scientists will also be losing, if they do not update their image of Mead. By approaching Mead from a viewpoint that is closer to his own, they might gain invaluable insight into the foundations of their disciplines. To explain the situation in social sciences in closer detail, I draw distinction between sociology and social psychology and treat them separately. In textbooks and anthologies on sociological theory and its history, one frequently runs into Mead’s name, often with a summary of what the author takes his main message to be. These summaries are curious, in that they often do sum up a theory but it is not Mead’s. What they manage to depict, unwittingly, is usually the views of Mead’s contemporary American thinker, the sociologist Charles Cooley (1864-1929). The two knew and appreciated each other, but their theoretical views are not completely of one cloth. The situation does not change very much if one moves to discus more advanced literature in sociological theory. “Mead,” Jürgen Habermas says (1984: 399), “belongs together with Ëmile Durkheim and Max Weber to the generation of the founding fathers of modern sociology.” Yes, of course he belongs to that generation biographically, but whether he is to 4 be treated as one of the founders of sociology, is quite another question. Habermas thinks that he is so to be treated and develops the first outlines of his theory of communicative action, his main interest in that mammoth work, by referring extensively on Mead. One central term that he uses throughout the book is intersubjectivity. Indeed, Mead has contributed to the understanding of intersubjectivity, but not in a sociological sense, and not in the sense of communicative action that Habermas ascribes to him.2 In Mead’s conception human intersubjectivity – though he never uses this more recent term, as far as I know – emerges in concomitance with instrumental action, and is something that a notion of communication needs to presuppose, not its outcome. However, one can also meet such an author, who thinks that Mead’s conception is excessively intersubjective (though she does not use this word), and leads to an ‘over-socialized conception of man.’ This is the thesis of Margaret Archer (2003), who interestingly – but to my mind erroneously – tries to alleviate the excessive sociality in Mead by drawing on Charles Peirce. It is a good thing that the names of classical pragmatists become more familiar even among sociologists, but Archer’s attempt to build a theory of self on Peirce’s conceptions is a “non-starter,” to quote her own pejorative expression (2003: 79). In studying human social life at the empirical level Mead is of more relevance than Peirce, though not in an empirically sociological sense. (I have compared Mead and Peirce in Kilpinen 2002; for a more detailed criticism of Archer in the above sense, see Gronow 2008). The literary corpus for which Mead is best known consists of lectures on social psychology that he gave at the University of Chicago during a period of thirty years, and of which two sets of notes (one of them stenographic) have later been edited into books (MSS, 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). 5 1934; ISS, 1982). 3 However, as he called his subject matter social psychology, this did not refer to any then-new social discipline; it rather referred to the universality of the subject matter. For him, human sociality “is not a field for application for psychology, but is rather presupposed by psychology as much as biology or physiology is generally supposed to be,” as Joas (1985: 98) states the matter. His point is that of empirical disciplines dealing with humans and their behaviour, it is psychology rather than sociology that comes closest to Mead’s theoretical intent. The British Mead scholar Robert Farr agrees with this idea and has carried the thesis further. As points out in dramatic terms (1996: 70), “Mead solved a problem that [other] psychologists did not even recognize to exist.” Which problem might be so enigmatic? It was and still is the idea that the human mind is intersubjectively constituted, and the realization that the way to understanding this does not begin from individual subjectivity. The way rather begins from human individuals doing things together and thus being in inherent, not contingent, interaction with each other and with their material world at the same time. The idea of interaction with the material world might arouse behaviouristic associations to a reader’s mind, but they are not called for. Farr makes even another important point by noting (1996: 71) that from Mead’s perspective, “behaviourism is merely the other side of Cartesian dualism.” I agree and in this paper attempt to develop these insights further, and to show that Mead has been much ahead of his time in dealing with problems of cognition, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and their correct order. Namely, his original hypotheses have in many senses received ample corroboration, not to say verification, by recent empirical research. 3 In this paper, I use abbreviations about book titles under Mead’s 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. 6 The reason why I find this important, both philosophically and for social sciences is the following. Mead’s contributions make him an indispensably important member in the quartet of classic American pragmatists, besides his predecessors Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Without his presence its general argument may seem a bit unfinished, regardless of how much one appreciates Peirce’s logic and semiotics, or Dewey’s comprehensive purview of all things human (I personally appreciate them very highly). Mead’s philosophy not only goes well together with that of his pragmatist brethren, but in some cases adds the needed capstone to the corpus. For example, although Peirce’s famous thesis that “all thought is in signs” ultimately points to the conclusion that the human mind is intersubjectively constituted, it is Mead who spells this out at the empirical level, as we shall see below. Assertions about internal inconsistencies among classic pragmatists that one occasionally hears also lose much of their thrust if Mead is included. His philosophy namely serves as mediator between the others. It overlaps with them, yet is independent and irreducible to any of them. In the currently prolific literature on pragmatism, even friends of the approach often harm their own case, by neglecting Mead’s contributions. As a consequence, they sometimes assume an unnecessarily defensive attitude when pragmatism is compared with positivist-analytic philosophy and/or phenomenology. Mead’s contribution rounds out the pragmatist argument; in a sense even manages to keep some promises that his fellow-pragmatists gave but did not keep themselves. Before I move to discuss those promises I have yet to give a brief word about their context. 2. What is ’philosophy of the act’ and what is empirical responsibility? Mead scholars know that though there exists a book with the title The Philosophy of the Act (1938) under Mead’s author name, the title or the contents of the volume are not his own 7 choice. That volume is a collage that Charles W. Morris and his assistants put together from different materials left extant after Mead’s sudden death in 1931. Although Morris (19011979) studied philosophy under Mead and presented himself as the latter’s faithful follower (cf. Morris 1971: 445), his credibility as Mead’s editor has often been put to question. Leading Mead scholars Hans Joas (1985) and Gary A. Cook (1993) both remark that Morris’s editorial decisions are not always to be trusted. Indeed, the point was made already earlier, as John Dewey and Arthur Bentley noted in their mutual correspondence (1964: 70-71 ) about the “dumbness” of Mead’s editors, referring in particular to the then recent Philosophy of the Act. Its editorial decisions are indeed arbitrary in that it contains both student notes from Mead’s classes (though only a few in this collage) and his own original texts side by side, sometimes without sufficient clarification. But I think that the title itself is not so illchosen, although Mead apparently has never sat down to write a book under that heading. However, would one give a name to Mead’s philosophy as a whole, then ‘philosophy of the act’ would not be the worst choice. In this paper I use the term in this sense. As I claim to be reconsidering the philosophy of the act, I mean Mead’s philosophy in general, not that particular book, although I shall refer to it too. As Morris and others remark in their introduction to the book (p. vii), there is an occasion when Mead has taken a look at philosophical disciplines as a whole, with ‘the act’ as his organizing principle. This happened in his early article “Suggestions toward a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines” (1900), where he considered various philosophical fields of study from the viewpoint of how they bear on human action. This, however, brings us to the fact that Mead’s conception of human action is not quite what is ordinary in philosophy or sociology. He is one of those rare thinkers who do not take what might be sarcastically called ‘mind-first explanation’ of action as the only possible starting point. In view of the fact this 8 supposition has been paradigmatic elsewhere in philosophy and social sciences (details of course vary), the unique character of Mead’s position begins to dawn on us. He is one of those few who have been able to see beyond the mind-first model, and to problematize mind’s relation to action. Accordingly, what does the term ‘act’ actually refer to, and how might one build a philosophy upon it? The term proliferates in Mead’s and Dewey’s writings, from the early 1890s on, and it refers to the study of behaviour. In The Philosophy of the Act (65), Mead says that “the unit of existence is the act, not the moment.” He reiterates this in his social psychology lectures (Mind, Self and Society), where one of his earliest points is that “the act and not the tract is the fundamental datum in both individual and social psychology” (MSS: 8; see also 114). I interpret Mead to be saying that one must in the study of behaviour begin from concrete doings, not from structural details of the body (tract) or temporalities. However, there is also a pitfall lurking here, and it must be dealt with right away. Namely, Mead’s choice of terms is treacherously similar to the one that his compatriot, the eminent sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) deployed. Treacherously, because the order of things in the terms’ usage is radically different, though terms themselves are similar. In The Structure of Social Action (1937/1949: 44f. et passim), Parsons defines ‘unit act’ as the (temporally) smallest conceivable unit in the study of human behaviour; such where one still can perceive the means and ends of the action, and how the acting subject chooses between them. Above we heard Mead calling ‘the act’ the ‘unit of existence.’ The crucial difference is that Parson’s concept of ‘act’ is based on (the acting subject’s) mind, whereas in Mead this order of things is reversed: he is out to show how one can theoretically derive mind (and, at a later stage, the self) from the already pre-existing behaviour. Briefly, Parsons relies on mindfirst explanation; Mead does not, and the two thinkers argue in quite different frames of 9 reference. Mead’s main line of argument is mostly phylogenetic, concerns the development of the human race as a whole. He maintains that already before the stage when we can talk about human beings, their consciousness, and choices of ends and means, there have been creatures doing things, in other words, performing ‘acts.’ On another occasion of his social psychology lectures, Mead is reported to have said laconically that “wherever we find living forms, we find acts” (ISS: 108). Problems of interpretation are not yet over and done with, however. Mead namely uses his multifarious act-term also in a different sense. This different sense occurs in his lectures on the history of ideas. There he explicitly deals with human beings, philosophers and other thinkers, and one may wonder whether ‘the act’ is a suitable term here, as it elsewhere refers to all ‘living forms.’ Mead paraphrases (MT: 26) Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ to mean “that every act which a rational being carries out should take on this universal form [of general moral obligation],” but this would have insulted good old Kant, had he known that Mead uses the same term about animal doings. Accordingly, Mead can be found inconsistent. Usually he seems to refer by ‘the act’ to the borderland between human an animal doings. The reason why I think it to be his main object of interest, is his emphatic insistence (MSS: 133) to the effect that It is absurd to look at the mind simply from the standpoint of the individual human organism; for although it has its focus there, it is primarily a social phenomenon; even its biological functions are primarily social. The subjective experience of the individual must be brought into relation with the natural, socio-biological activities of the brain in order to render an acceptable account of mind possible at all; and this can be done only if the social nature of mind is recognized. 10 Mind thus is for Mead a natural and social phenomenon at the same time. Psychological study has not sufficiently highlighted these two aspects, nor realized that consciousness is to be taken as a problem to be investigated, not just assumed. The promising way to study it is to assume action (Mead’s ‘act’) to appear before consciousness and to serve as its foundation. To quote again Mind, Self and Society, Mead’s best-known text his position there (MSS: 18) is that We are forced to conclude that consciousness is an emergent from behaviour; that so far from being a precondition of the social act, the social act is the precondition of it. The mechanism of the social act can be traced out without introducing into it the conception of consciousness as a separate element within that act; hence the social act, in its more elementary stages or forms, is possible without, or apart from, some form of consciousness. Two comments are in order here. First, social act is for Mead the original and paradigmatic form, particularly of human action. There are also individual acts, but theoretically they are derivatives from the former mode. As regards the evolutionary framework of Mead’s point, it appears to receive support from the empirical study that today is being conducted on consciousness and its relation to behaviour. The neurologist Antonio Damasio treats consciousness, like Mead does, as a phenomenon to be explained, and remarks (2006: 89-90) that Not all behaving organisms have minds, that is, not all have mental phenomena (which is the same as saying that not all have cognition or cognitive processes). Some organisms have both behaviour and cognition. Some have intelligent actions but no mind. No organism seems to have mind but no action. 11 The point in both renditions, Mead’s and Damasio’s is that only an acting creature has any need for mind and consciousness in the first place, so that they are to be taken as an emergence from pre-existing activity. This is the first occasion when we find Mead’s philosophical hypotheses receiving empirical support, and I will provide some more examples in what follows. Mead’s reason to begin from action and to develop his interpretation of mind, consciousness and self on its basis, I take to be his wish to avoid Cartesian dualisms. Those famous (or infamous) dualisms, the one between mind and body as the most basic, lead to the opposite order of things between mind and behaviour. Yet a word of explanation of what I mean by ‘empirically responsible philosophy.’ The saying I borrow from Lakoff’s and Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999: xi), and they use it to pay a compliment to John Dewey and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Those classic philosophers, the authors tell, went to pains to argue in alignment with the state of the art in empirical science, or at least not to contradict it. This is a different aspiration from that of (extreme) positivists, who wanted to make philosophy a summary of science. Lakoff and Johnson tell further that Dewey’s and Merleau-Ponty’s sense of empirical responsibility showed particularly in their emphasis on human bodily experience “as the primal basis for everything we can mean, think, know and communicate” (p. 3). Very well, but Mead scholars know that these compliments would fit him just as well, perhaps even more deservedly. Here is a case of the philosophical negligence of Mead of which I noted above. He would be the closest forerunner of Lakoff’s and Johnson’s program, but these scholars seem to be aware of him. He is also otherwise a good example of an empirically responsible philosopher because this comes out in the personal data that he has given for the reference work American Men of Science. There Mead (1910: 315) mentions “relation of philosophy to the natural sciences” as his first object of interest. Accordingly, Farr (1996: 80) seems to be right in saying that 12 “Many who [have been] influenced by Mead may have failed to appreciate the extent to which his theorizing was constrained by the available scientific evidence.” I agree, but think also that scientific evidence did not just constrain Mead’s theorizing. With today’s more ample evidence we can say that Mead has been an empirically responsible philosopher in two senses. He has not only respected science but been able to adumbrate some of its later development. 3. The irreducibility of intersubjectivity and its corporeal foundation Hans Joas (1985: 2) summed up his path-breaking study on Mead’s theoretical development, by calling him “the most important theorist of intersubjectivity between Feuerbach and Habermas.” No one will be done injustice if we say that this is an understatement. Even with historical relativity taken into account, one is hard put to find a thinker to match, let alone surpass, Mead as a theorist of intersubjectivity. But what is intersubjectivity? We run into difficulties again, because some eminent thinkers have had various meanings for the term. Mead, as far as I know, has not used the term at all, but his underlying idea seems nonetheless best capture what should be understood by the term. Philosophers sometimes talk about the ‘problem’ of intersubjectivity, also known as ‘the problem of other minds.’ I have my mind and you have yours, and we can never divine what goes in the head of the other, can we? Mead’ insight has been in transcending this framework that prima facie seems natural. For example, Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, was one to take intersubjectivity as a problem. He founded his philosophical project on the study of individual consciousness, discovered that this threatens to lead to solipsism and tried to do 13 something to alleviate that threat. Intersubjectivity posed a problem for him, as he did not want to give up his starting point in subjective consciousness. Mead had a quite different situation in mind. I introduce what I take to be his starting point with a bit of jocularity: Intersubjectivity cannot be (a part of) the problem, because it is (a part of) the solution! That what we can say intersubjectivity to ‘solve’ is the origin of subjectivity. Mead’s line of reasoning goes into the opposite direction from that of other great philosophers, say, Husserl. He does not start from a state of individual subjectivity and ponder how this might be extended to include also (an) other mind(s). He begins by assuming a condition of (elementary) intersubjectivity, and then shows how individual subjectivity can be constituted on its basis. This is what I take him to have meant by asserting that “We must be others if we are to be ourselves” (SW: 292; 1925), for example. Today, Radu Bogdan, a philosopher of cognitive science, is almost as laconic to the same effect , as he notes in agreement with Mead4 that “It is the other, not the self, whom one must deal with and figure out first” (2000: 143). Mead’s ideas appear to be in reasonably good company, as I have maintained in this paper. However, so far I have just given a brief characterization of intersubjectivity, but the question is how it actually operates is still open. In taking a look at this question, we find Mead’s theories to be even more alive and well. In posterity, Mead is best remembered for his conception of the human self, for the notion in which the ‘phases’ of the self, as he called them, ‘the I’ and ‘the me’ are in dialogic interaction with each other. The reason why this pair of concepts is so well 4 The quoted author Bogdan (2000) is an exception among contemporary philosophers of cognitive science in that he is aware that Mead has approached human subjectivity from a similar viewpoint. His real forerunner, however, Bogdan sees in the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s eminence is not to be disputed, but even Bogdan’s knowledge of Mead appears, regrettably, to be based mostly on hearsay, though he does mention Mind, Self, and Society (1934). This testifies to the fact that Mead is still much too little known by those scholars who today are most closely related to his original problems. 14 remembered might be that it is a philosophical and psychological “commonplace,” as Mead’s own characterization once goes (SW: 140; 1912). Something like this has been assumed almost invariantly throughout philosophy’s history, from Plato via Kant to the late twentieth century dialogical philosophy of Charles Taylor and others. The specific terms ‘I’ and ‘me,’ appear in psychology for the first time in William James’s Principles of Psychology (1890) as Mead acknowledges, but the basic idea is age-old.5 Mead does stand out among theorists of the human self, but not on account of his I/me distinction. What he has added as a genuine advancement is the third constituent of his self-concept, ‘the generalized other.’ The ‘generalized other’ is perhaps the closest implicit equivalent to the concept of intersubjectivity in Mead’s theoretical vocabulary. The distinction I/me appears early in his usge, though he continuously develops it, but the ‘generalized other’ is a later idea, appearing for the first time to my knowledge in the 1922 article, ‘A Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol’ (SW: 246). Where Mead stands out from others is that in his conception the ‘generalized other’ is the necessary foundation of I/me self; they are constituted upon it. What is perhaps of even more importance and my reason to suggest that the term refers to intersubjectivity, is Mead’s following point. As he says (MSS: 156; emphasis added), “only by taking the attitude of the generalized other toward himself ... can [an individual] think at all; for only thus can thinking – or the internalized conversation of gestures that constitutes thinking – occur.” Not anyone can think; the ability to think is an accomplishment achieved during the ontogenetic development, and its outcome Mead call the generalized other. The following addendum that he makes situates him in his pragmatist background with its emphasis on action, and it points to empirical research that in some respects has later vindicated him. As he says (MSS: 154-155), 5 It also appears to be alive and well, judging by what Damasio (2010: 8-10) writes. He refers with approval to James (1890) as a predecessor, but unsurprisingly not to Mead. 15 If the given human individual is to develop a self in the fullest sense, it is not sufficient for him merely to take the attitudes of other human individuals toward himself and toward one another within the human social process, and to bring that social process as a whole into his individual experience merely in these terms: he must also, in the same way that he takes the attitudes of other individuals toward himself and toward one another, take their attitudes toward the various phases or aspects of the common social activity ... in which they are all engaged. ... This getting of the broad activities of any given social whole or organized society as such in the experiential field ... is the essential basis and prerequisite of the fullest development of that individual’s self... Accordingly, the generalized other is not a synthesis of the different social identities surrounding the socializing individual. Too many of Mead’s readers have jumped to this conclusion. Rather, the generalized other is a synthesis of the various social agencies, individuals doing things together, that surround the socializing individual. If socialization is to take place, individuals are to be understood as interacting not only with one another but also with the material world. This insight, that agency precedes identity and individuality (both in phylogenetic and ontogenetic sense), is also the line through which Mead’s ideas have received most and best posthumous vindication. Intersubjectivity vindicated Think what total lack of intersubjectivity, intersubjectivity brought down to degree zero might be like. We know what it is like. It is what is sometimes called ‘insensitivity to social situations,’ perhaps more often ‘psychological mind-blindness,’ but usually known as autism. 16 Autism and intersubjectivity are opposite concepts, so that the diagnosis of autism in the 1940s vindicated Mead’s original assumption about the universality of intersubjectivity – for which he did not use this particular term, as noted. The term autism – which I have not noticed Mead using, either – was suggested in 1917 by the psychologist Bleuler, and its first clinical diagnostician (in 1943) was the physician Leo Kanner (Hacking 1999: 114). Since then, more detailed research has distinguished also sub-variants of autism, some of psychical, others of physiological origin. The severest form of the latter kind is due to prenatal injury in the part of the brain called the amygdala (Damasio (2006; 2000). Such unlucky creatures will have a Hobbesian life: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, and live it in diapers. Most cases are less severe and have, as Damasio describes (2003: 330, n33), “serious social difficulties, tend to lack empathy, and often live a lonely and friendless existence.” So far so bad, but what actually is it that we luckier individuals can do but autistic people cannot? We luckier ones exercise ‘mind-reading’ (Baron-Cohen 1995; Frith 2003). This kind of idea appears already in Mead, he has had at least an inkling of it, as he has said (MSS: 14) that “We are reading the meaning of the conduct of other people when, perhaps, they are not aware of it.” So the case is, although more recent research has added that besides those others we ourselves are usually unaware that we are engaged in such a reading operation. This, however, does not invalidate Mead’s original point. What such mindreading yields as its result is often called a ‘theory of mind.’ This does not refer to ideas of theorists but ideas held by you and I, as we engage in dealings with each other. Damasio (2000: 83, 93) provides a description: The solution of the method problem posed by the privacy of consciousness relies on a natural human ability, that of theorizing constantly about the state of mind of others from observation of behaviours, reports of mental states, and 17 counterchecking of their correspondencies (...) When we observe someone with intact core consciousness, well before any words are spoken, we find ourselves assuming the subject’s state of mind. Whether correct or not, some of the presumptions are based on a continuity of emotional signals available in the subject’s behaviour. The capacity for mind-reading is good for a number of important things, adds another of its leading researchers, Simon Baron-Cohen (1995: 30), naming “social understanding, behavioural prediction, social interaction, and communication.” This refers to human sociality in the social-psychological or sociological sense. That is important but it is even more important to know that mind-reading provides also the means by which we have access to our own mind. Thanks to it we can objectify our mind for scrutiny, exercise ‘selfreflection,’ as philosophical classics used to say, or ‘meta-mentation,’ as is Bogdan’s (2000) more naturalistic expression for the phenomenon (for definitive treatments of this function of mind-reading, see Carruthers 2009; Gray 2004: 294f.). And this makes the point that I have claimed to be also Mead’s point: Intersubjectivity necessarily precedes individual subjectivity and serves as its foundation in our minds. We are individual subjects thanks to our first having been social subjects in the intersubjective sense, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically. However, Mead’s far-sightedness as a theorist of intersubjectivity is not even now spelled out. It concerns not only the results of intersubjectivity but even the mechanism by which it takes place. Mead of course has not had an idea of those neurological facts whose discovery was impossible by the then stage of technology, but he has been looking in the right direction. The clinical diagnosis of autism in the 1940s established via negationis the intersubjective constitution of the human mind. What was still lacking was a description of how this kind of 18 mind operates. In particular, what are the underlying neural mechanisms of such mental operations? Technological improvements in brain imaging have since then made their detection possible, and the findings of this research have been reported as the discovery of mirror neurons in the human brain. The credit for this discovery belongs to a team of Italian scientists, Giacomo Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia, who sum up their findings in a book, Mirrors in the Brain (2006/2008). Another Italian-born scientist, Marco Iacoboni (2008) is also a notable pioneer in the field. The first thing to be noted is that they have not found any new neurons in the human brain, they rather have discovered a new, ‘mirroring’ function in already known visual and motor neurons. These two kinds of neurons, whose existence is an old hat, as said, are related to two closely geared functions: perception and action (see below). As the authors state (2008: 50-51), referring also explicitly to Mead (1907; 1938) as a predecessor, Our aim is to stress that the function of the motor system is not confined to the execution and control of movements, and that even in the case of simple acts such as grasping, the motor vocabulary contained in the [brain] circuit requires continual interaction between perception and action. However ‘pragmatic’ it may be, this interaction still plays a decisive role in constructing the sense of objects; without it the majority of the so-called ‘higher order’ cognitive functions could not take place. Before moving on, a brief word of the above ‘grasping,’ as it elucidates the basic idea. The mirroring phenomenon has been found in the brains of most primates. When, say, a monkey sees another monkey to grasp an interesting object, the very same visual and motor neurons activate in the first monkey’s brain, that would activate were the monkey itself doing the grasping. Only the neurons activate, the monkey will not do an empty grasping 19 gesture. Accordingly, mirror neurons do not simply mirror our neighbours in any old manner. They depict them as doers rather than beings – but this precisely was already Mead’s starting point, as he derived the intersubjective mind from the primitively social action, and thence derived individual human subjectivity. The American sociologist and cognitive scientist David D. Franks (2010: 86) has already made the point that “the current findings regarding mirror neurons add embodiment and thus refinement to Mead’s ‘theory of the act’ as well as confirm the ‘priority of action’ which is the key to Chicago pragmatism.” I agree with this and with Franks’s admirable Neurosociology (2010) almost altogether, as his position too is that “We [humans] came from a line of doers, not just thinkers, talkers and feelers” (p. 87; original emphasis). However, I think that one can compare Mead’ ‘theory of the act’ with that of Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia (2008) even more closely. When doing so, those newly-found neurons are less important than the context of motor behaviour onto which the authors situate them. Consider their following example. In handling, say, a coffee cup, We will grasp it in different ways depending on whether we are picking it up to drink from it, to rinse it, or simply to move it from one place to another. Moreover, our grip on the cup varies according to the circumstances, whether we are afraid of burning our fingers, or the cup is surrounded by other objects; it will also be influenced by our customs, habits, and our inclinations to adhere to certain social rules and so on. (Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia 2008: 35-36). But if so, what is this if not to vindicate on empirical grounds Mead’s original point about how what he called the ‘consummation’ stage of the act controls the act’s character right from the beginning? (Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia [2008: 48] have a term, “virtual pole of action” that answers Mead’s ‘consummation’ to a tee). “The later stages of the act are 20 present in the early stages – not simply in the sense that they are ready to go off, but in the sense that they serve to control the process itself, “ was Mead’s own perhaps most concise formulation (MSS: 11). He explained what he meant by more concrete examples: “If one approaches a distant object he approaches it with reference to what he is going to do when he arrives there. If one is approaching a hammer he is muscularly all ready to seize the handle of the hammer” (ibid.). To many readers these formulations might have sounded metaphysical and as mere unnecessary ballast in Mead’s theory of social psychology. The truth is the opposite. These phrases make the point that action is for him the groundwork of all higher cognitive functions, of which intersubjectivity and later appearing subjectivity are humanly most important. And these ideas deserve to be taken very seriously, judging by what current cutting-edge empirical science is telling about the matter. The situation is similar concerning Mead’s theory of perception: it receives corroboration concomitantly with the accumulation of empirical and conceptual research findings. “Perceiving is a way of acting,” are the opening words in Action in Perception (2004), by the philosopher of cognitive science Alva Noë. Or, to make the point in alternative manner: Action and perception are the inseparable two sides of the human condition, of the manner in which we exist in the world. To be sure, philosophy has dealt with both as long as there has been philosophy and empirical human sciences have followed suit immediately after having been established. However, there has been the problem – and some people find this a grave problem – that those two phenomena have been treated separately, so that their mutual relation has remained just contingent. Mead defended the idea that their relation is instead inherent: there is continuous traffic between the human subject and the surrounding world in both directions. Twenty-first century research on the phenomenon has taken the same view, has treated perception as “enactive,” as Noë calls it, meaning by this its 21 inseparable relation to action. “Perception is not something that happens to us or in us. It is something we do.” (2004:1). In closer detail the idea is expressed like this: “The basis of perception, on our enactive, sensori-motor approach, is implicit practical knowledge of the ways movement gives rise to stimulation” (2004: 8). This may sound a bit technical at first, but Mead provides some needful elucidation. The underlying idea is simply and solely that “what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell depends upon what we are doing and not the reverse” (Mead SW: 37; 1903). The order has often appeared to be the reverse for those who have separated action and perception, and they have made the bulk of philosophers and human scientists thus far. Whether they have been right in choosing that order is another question. Although the question remains open, empirically, and for instance Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia cite also differing opinions, their own suggestion is to treat perceptions as “action proposals,” as they call them (2008: 35; original emphasis). Conclusion As Hans Joas (1985) and Gary A. Cook (1993) years ago conducted painstaking philological studies on what Mead really had said and meant, they reached conclusions that were meant to alter the prevailing picture of the classic. Instead of being a paradigmatic theorist of social interaction (among socialized adult humans), as the received view had maintained, Mead turned out to be a paradigmatic theorist of action. Not a theorist of action in that meaning of the term that is favoured in analytic philosophy, neoclassical economics or functionalist sociology. Mead does not assume that an explicit operation by the conscious mind is always needed to send the subject on his way – he assumes the subject to be on his (or her) way already. Those path-breaking philological studies have stood the test of time, but have, regrettably, not left much imprint in other scholars’ treatments of Mead. All too often one still encounters him as a theorist of interaction in the sociological sense and the rest is silence. 22 Joas gave to Mead’s theoretical position the caption term “practical intersubjectivity.” This is the title of the original German edition of his book. By this he meant mind’s intersubjective constitution and its dependence on ongoing corporeal activity, basically: joint activities performed by humans. As I said, this summation has rather well stood the test of time; it only needs to be taken further, in the light of present-day knowledge. Joas presented it mostly in the framework of what German scholars in particular call ‘philosophical anthropology,’ where the term ‘anthropology’ refers to the universality of the subject matter: it is intended to cover humankind in its entirety. However, in light of what we have seen above, it is possible to go even further. The universally anthropological frame of reference is not to be given up, but it can be given more of empirical founding. The fact that Mead’s theory of perception and his theory of the act are being literally rediscovered (not always with his name mentioned) gives even solid empirical relevance to those theories. They are not of course empirical in the sense of actual research findings, but they can serve as such a foundation for human studies that has also empirical solidity, not merely philosophical consistency. Ideas like this seem to be ‘in the air.’ The excellent book by a younger German scholar Matthias Jung, Der bewusste Ausdruck (2009) is not a contribution to Mead scholarship in the philological sense, but one can quite well say it to be written in his spirit. Or at least in the spirit of pragmatism, as Peirce, James and Dewey are also extensively and competently covered in the volume. Most interestingly, the author draws via and through these thinkers a historical line of development from German philosophical anthropology to the contemporary philosophy of mind that draws on the results and findings of cognitive science, as I have briefly tried to do above. I believe that applications like these are the best way to make use of Mead’s original ideas, instead of rehearsing them philologically. 23 When brought in the context provided by the philosophy of mind that draws on cognitive and neuroscience, Mead’s and other pragmatists’ ideas turn out more pertinent than ever. In the first place, the real relevance and character of the pragmatist project in philosophy, from Peirce to Mead, can now be seen in all its relevance. Perhaps Peirce erred only by a century, as he in 1906 prophesied pragmatism (not ‘pragmaticism’, analytic epigones notwithstanding!) to develop into the dominant philosophy of the twentieth century. Pragmatism has enough unused potential to develop a dominant or at least major philosophy for the twenty-first century. Not, however, in the guise of contemporary ‘neo-pragmatism,’ but as empirically responsible philosophy. Current neo-pragmatists are so far right that all of their classic predecessors had a low opinion about epistemology as a foundational theory in philosophy. Mead, for example, used the term almost in a pejorative sense. From this, however, it does not follow that genuine pragmatism might be ‘anti-foundational.’ Instead of founding their philosophical project upon knowledge, classic pragmatists founded it on action. As far as social sciences are concerned, correct understanding of Mead’s philosophical message would be of much importance for them. Above, at the beginning of this paper, I spoke somewhat critically about Mead’s social-scientific reception, although I am a social scientist myself. The reason is my frustration with most previous attempts to draw on him. I’m forced to use an expression that is not quite politically correct today: I find that particularly the customary sociological reading of Mead only emasculates him, turns him into a run-of-the-mill theorist of human social interaction. Social interaction is a respectable field of study, but Mead’s theories are not of particular help on that domain, because of their generality and abstract character. However, the fact remains that without human intersubjectivity there would not be any human social life such as we know it, and, accordingly not any social sciences – or other sciences. 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