Sociology Index

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called genetic epistemology. Jean Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. As the Director of the International Bureau of Education, he declared in 1934 that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual." Jean Piaget's theory of child development is studied in pre-service education programs. Educators continue to incorporate constructivist-based strategies.

Piaget created the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva in 1955 while on the faculty of the University of Geneva and directed the Center until his death in 1980. The number of collaborations that its founding made possible, and their impact, ultimately led to the Center being referred to in the scholarly literature as Piaget's Factory.

According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget was "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing." However, his ideas did not become widely popularized until the 1960s. This then led to the emergence of the study of development as a major sub-discipline in psychology. By the end of the 20th century, Piaget was second only to B. F. Skinner as the most cited psychologist of that era.

Jean Piaget developed an interest in epistemology due to his godfather's urgings to study the fields of philosophy and logic. Jean Piaget was educated at the University of Neuchâtel, and studied briefly at the University of Zürich. During this time, he published two philosophical papers that showed the direction of his thinking at the time, but which he later dismissed as adolescent thought. Jean Piaget interest in psychoanalysis, at the time a burgeoning strain of psychology, can also be dated to this period.

Jean Piaget investigated the hidden side of children's minds. Piaget proposed that children moved from a position of egocentrism to sociocentrism. For this explanation he combined the use of psychological and clinical methods to create what he called a semiclinical interview. Piaget was looking for what he called "spontaneous conviction" so he often asked questions the children neither expected nor anticipated. In his studies, he noticed there was a gradual progression from intuitive to scientific and socially acceptable responses. Piaget theorized children did this because of the social interaction and the challenge to younger children's ideas by the ideas of those children who were more advanced. This work was used by Elton Mayo as the basis for the famous Hawthorne Experiments. This led to an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1936.

Jean Piaget believed that the process of thinking and the intellectual development could be regarded as an extension of the biological process of the adaptation of the species, which has also two on-going processes: assimilation and accommodation. There is assimilation when a child responds to a new event in a way that is consistent with an existing schema. There is accommodation when a child either modifies an existing schema or forms an entirely new schema to deal with a new object or event.

According to Jean Piaget, genetic epistemology attempts to "explain knowledge, and in particular scientific knowledge, on the basis of its history, its sociogenesis, and especially the psychological origins of the notions and operations upon which it is based." Piaget believed he could test epistemological questions by studying the development of thought and action in children. As a result, Piaget created a field known as genetic epistemology with its own methods and problems.