Morphisms and Categories: Comparing and Transforming

Morphisms and Categories: Comparing and Transforming

Morphisms and Categories: Comparing and Transforming

Morphisms and Categories: Comparing and Transforming


Despite dissent in many quarters, Piaget's epistemology and the developmental psychology derived from it remain the most powerful theories in either field. From the beginning, Piaget's fundamental epistemological notion was that all knowledge is rooted in action, and for a long time, he identified action with transformation. What is known is that which remains constant under transformatory action. This book represents a fundamental reformulation of that point of view. Alongside transformatory schemes, Piaget now presents evidence that nontransformatory actions -- comparisons that create morphisms and categories among diverse situations constitute a necessary and complementary instrument of knowledge. This work aims to elucidate that insight experimentally and theoretically and to understand the developmental interaction of comparing and transforming as knowledge is constructed.

This first English translation of Piaget's work includes studies of children's understanding of geometric forms, machines, and abstract concepts. It contains a clear statement of his mature position on continuity with biology as well as with the history of ideas.


Studying this volume has been a very special experience for me, and I think it will also be for all those who take seriously Piaget's commitment to finding continuities between the psychogenesis of children's thinking and the historical development of ideas. This volume contains a particularly clear statement of his mature position on continuity, with biology as well as with the history of ideas; it also offers a rich description of one of the most interesting attempts to use a very sophisticated form of the continuity hypothesis as a guide to experimentation. Let me quickly note, because such issues sometimes make for hard reading, that this book, like much of Piaget's writing, and like all the best literature, can be read profitably on several different levels.

Who has not picked up a new volume by Piaget and made a first pass at it by savoring the poetry of the dialogues with children, skimming lightly over the intervening prose discussion of abstruse issues? Doing so does not necessarily mean missing the essential: To a surprising extent Piaget's theoretical positions are brilliantly embodied in these concrete instantiations. Many Piaget-watchers who never go back for a second pass still take profound lessons from the masterly choices of situations and interchanges. The series of experimental studies described in the following pages can be recommended as an exceptionally rich source of pleasure, information, and ideas for those who prefer this style of reading as well as for those who want to follow him through every turn of thought.

This series of studies is also outstanding in the extent to which it allows the intellectual personalities of the individual experimental collaborators to shine through Piaget's integration of their work as part of his larger theoretical perspective. Although I do not know all the collaborators well enough to comment on each individually, I am struck by the consistency over many of the books from Geneva of such features as the crisply logical style of Berthoud-Papandropolou's experimental studies, the real-world rootedness of Karmiloff's, and the fascination with mechanism shown in Blanchet and Ackermann-Valladão's. The role of the collaborators, as individuals, as more than just names listed as footnotes to each chapter, had received very insufficient attention in the discussion of Piaget's methodology.

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