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The 'I' and the 'me' are terms central to the social philosophy of George Herbert Mead, one of the biggest influences on the development of the branch of sociology called symbolic-interactionism. The terms refer to the psychology of the person.
In Mead's understanding, the 'me' is the socialised aspect of the person. It is what is learned in interaction with others and (more generally) with the environment. This includes both knowledge about that environment (including society), but also about who he or she is: his or her 'sense of self'. This is because the person learns to see who he or she is (man or woman, old or young, etc.) by observing the responses of others to himself/herself or his/her actions. If others respond to the person as (for instance) a woman, the person develops a sense of herself indeed as a woman.
The 'I' is the active aspect of the person. This acts creatively, though within the context of the 'me'. (Mead notes that it is only after we act or speak that we know what we were going to do or say.) People, he argues, are not automatons. They do not blindly follow rules. They construct a response on the basis of what they have learned, the 'me'.
Taken together, the 'I' and the 'me' form the person or the 'self' in Mead's social philosophy.
- George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society, (1934), Edited by Charles W. Morris, Chicago: University of Chicago.
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