A Mead-Cooley Merger

Norbert Wiley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since Cooley was unable to fight back when Mead wrote his highly negative obituary, this is a defense of Cooley. Mead accused Cooley of solipsism, which I show to be a misreading. Mead also criticized Cooley for defining the self as self-feeling, as opposed to Mead's reflexivity, two ideas which actually imply each other. Cooley scooped Mead by a good decade with the ideas of role-taking and inner speech, debts which Mead did not mention. I also show that Mead did not really explain the origin of the self, either phylogenetically (in the species) or ontogenetically (in the infant). I speculate about these two issues. Mead was a great genius, but, like everyone, he had his limits. And fairness requires that Cooley be rehabilitated. The ideas of the two thinkers are actually remarkably alike, so much so that a merger seems a reasonable idea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-186
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Sociologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Charles Horton Cooley
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • George Herbert Mead
  • inner speech
  • mirroring
  • role-taking
  • self

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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