Piaget's Theory of Formal Operations
To be formal, deduction must detach itself from reality and take up its stand upon the plane of the purely possible.
-- Jean Piaget ( 1928/ 1972, p. 71)
Developmental psychologists are quick to talk about matters such as emotional development, social development, personality development, and cognitive development. Because most people share the notion that children develop toward maturity, such terminology may be uncritically accepted. As discussed in chapter 1, however, psychological maturity is a more problematical notion than physical maturity. This raises questions about what is meant by psychological development.
Caution is in order, for example, when claiming that certain emotions are better than others. But what, then, is meant by emotional development? Similarly, the basis for suggesting that certain social interactions, personalities, or cognitions are better or more mature than others can be questioned. Perhaps, then, we are misleading ourselves when we discuss social development, personality development, or cognitive development.
Although such concerns are reasonable and important, I believe they can be satisfactorily addressed. In this chapter, focusing on cognitive development, I present the theory of Jean Piaget, who believed that cognition is indeed a developmental phenomenon. Piaget attempted to demonstrate that, over the course of childhood and early adolescence, individuals show qualitative changes in the nature of their cognition, that such changes are internally directed, and that such changes are progressive in the sense that later cognitive structures represent a higher level of rationality than earlier ones.
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Publication information: Book title: Adolescent Psychological Development:Rationality, Morality, and Identity. Contributors: David Moshman - Author. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of publication: Mahwah, NJ. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 7.
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