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The 'Me' and the 'I'

Although the self is a product of socio-symbolic interaction it is not merely a passive reflection of the generalized other. The individual's response to the social world is active; he decides what he will do in the light of the attitude of others but his conduct is not mechanically determined by such attitudinal structures. There are two phases of the self- that phase which reflects the attitude of the generalized other and that phase which responds to the attitude of the generalized other. Here Mead distinguishes between the 'me' and 'I'. The 'me' is the social self and the 'I' is the response to me. The 'I' is the response of the organism to the attitudes of the others; the 'me' is the organized set of attitudes of others which one assumes. Mead defines the 'me' as a conventional habitual individual and the 'I' as the novel reply of the individual to the generalized other. There is a dialectical relationship between society and the individual and this dialectic is enacted on the intra-psychic level in terms of the polarity of the 'me' and the 'I'.

The me is the internalization of roles which derive from such symbolic processes as linguistic interaction, playing and gaming whereas the I is a creative response to the symbolized structures of the me. The 'I' appear as a symbolized object in our consciousness of our past actions but then it has become part of me. The 'me' is in a sense that phase of the self that represents the past. The I which is a response to the me represents action in a present and implies the restructuring of the me in a future. Because of the temporal historical dimension of the self, the character of the 'I' is determinable only after it has occurred; the 'I' is not therefore subject to predetermination. Particular acts of the 'I' become aspects of the 'me' in the sense that they are objectified through memory but the 'I' as such is not contained in the 'me'. The human individual exists in a social situation and responds to that situation. The situation has a particular character but this character does not completely determine the response of the individual there seem to be alternative courses of action. The individual must select a course of action and act accordingly but the course of action he selects is not dictated by the situation. It is this indeterminacy of response that gives the sense of freedom of initiative.

The action of the 'I' is revealed only in the action itself; specific prediction of the action of 'I' is not possible. The individual is determined to respond but the specific character of the response is not fully determined. The individual's response are conditioned but not determined by the situation in which he acts. Human freedom is conditioned freedom. Thus the 'I' and the 'me' exist in dynamic relation to one another. The human personality arises in a social situation. This situation structures the me by means of inter –subjective symbolic processes – language,gestures,play and games etc and the active organism as it continues to develop must respond to its situation and to its me. This response of the active organism is the 'I'.The individual takes the attitude of the 'me' or the attitude of the 'I' according to the situation in which he finds himself. For Mead both aspects of the 'I' and the 'me' are essential to the self in its full expression. Both community and individual autonomy are necessary to identity. The 'I' is process breaking through structure. The 'me' is a necessary symbolic structure which renders the action of the 'I' possible and without this structure of things; the life of the self would become impossible.