Piaget's Theory: A Psychological Critique

Piaget's Theory: A Psychological Critique

Piaget's Theory: A Psychological Critique

Piaget's Theory: A Psychological Critique


This volume marks the 20th Anniversary Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society. Some of the American contributors were among the first to introduce Piaget to developmental and educational psychology in the United States, while some of the international contributors worked with Piaget to develop his program of genetic epistemology and continue to make significant contributions to it.

Within this volume the possibility of Piaget's paradigm is reviewed not only as the stuff of normal science, yielding fascinating empirical questions that linger within it, but also, and more importantly, as the stuff of revolutionary science, with continuing potential to comprehensively structure our thinking about developmental theory.

The constructive contribution Piaget's theory has for developmental theory emerges as four central themes in the volume:

understanding the intentional or semantic aspect of mental life without abandoning the Piagetian assumption that is rational and committed to truth testing;

examining mental life and its development as a dialectical relation of function and structure--a relation Piaget introduced in his study of the developmental relation between procedural and operational knowledge;

exploring new and interdisciplinary perspectives on equilibration as the driving force of constructive adaptive processes;

understanding social and historical forces in individual and cultural development--not necessarily as forces antithetical to Piaget's perspective but as forces that take on new meaning within his framework which avoids erroneous dichotomies such as the distinction between subjective and objective knowledge.


As a prelude to evaluating Piaget’s theory we raise some general issues about the problems of accounting for cognitive development, and contrast Piaget’s stance on these issues with those adopted by other authorities.

Many of the differences between a newborn infant and a two-year-old child are obvious. The elder child is bigger, more mobile, less dependent, has a wide repertoire of physical skills, can communicate many of his needs, has tastes, opinions, attitudes, favourite people, remembers a range of facts, names, times and promises and responds in elaborate ways to approaches made to him by others. Despite his achievements, however, he is a social, emotional and intellectual novice when compared with a four-year-old. The theorist working in developmental psychology seeks to explain these dramatic, age related changes.

In this undertaking a number of perennial issues are met. If some account is to be given of the changes as development proceeds then it is necessary to have detailed and accurate descriptions of the achievements at certain reference points. This in turn entails making choices about which part of the child’s extensive behavioural repertoire to describe since it is unlikely that any exhaustive description could be possible. Given these necessarily selective descriptions of developmental attainments the theorist then has to consider how development proceeds. Will the acquisition be seen as gradual accumulations of experience or as abruptly appearing achievements, and, as a related issue, are the attainments of the four-year-old qualitatively different from those of the twoyear-old or are they simply quantitatively different? Is the four-year-old’s language, for example, more of the same kind . . .

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