American Philosophy

George Herbert Mead

Who was George Herbert Mead?

George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) was a philosopher, social theorist, and reformer whom John Dewey (1859–1952) described as “a seminal mind of the first order.” (Dewey brought him to the University of Chicago when he accepted his position there.) Mead had been raised in a New England Puritan community, but in his mature thought he became an empiricist.

Mead’s most important contribution to both pragmatic theories of education and sociology was his idea of “symbolic interaction.” He offered an explanation of the development of the human mind and self, through the development of language and role playing. Although something of a behaviorist in his insistence on the social nature of individual mental development, Mead also believed that there were different developmental stages of adjustment to the external environment. Mead worked with Dewey in the Chicago Laboratory School and was a friend of Jane Addams (1860–1935) and a close observer of her work at Hull House.


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