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Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the founder of the field we now call cognitive development. His own term for the discipline was ‘genetic epistemology’, reflecting his deep philosophical concerns. Among Piaget’s most enduring contributions were his remarkably robust and surprising observations of children. Time after time, in a strikingly wide variety of domains, and at every age from birth to adolescence, he discovered that children understood the world in very different ways from adults.

But Piaget was really only interested in children because he thought they exemplified basic epistemological processes. By studying children we could discover how biological organisms acquire knowledge of the world around them. The principles of genetic epistemology could then be applied to other creatures, from molluscs to physicists. Piaget’s other enduring legacy is the idea that apparently foundational kinds of knowledge were neither given innately nor directly derived from experience. Rather, knowledge was constructed as a result of the complex interplay between organisms and their environment. Piaget saw this view as an alternative to both classical rationalism and empiricism.

Citing this article:
Gopnik, Alison. Piaget, Jean (1896–1980), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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