Jean Piaget (1896–1980)

1. Brief Vita

The Swiss epistemologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is best known for his pioneering work in the cognitive development of the child and as one of the founders of the field of developmental psychology. Ironically, his success in psychology has overshadowed the intended epistemological significance of Piaget’s theory and lifelong interdisciplinary studies for the philosophy of science. Most philosophers and many psychologists do not know that Piaget never formally studied for a degree in psychology. Rather, he had studied the origins of intelligence in children in order to answer questions about the origins and growth of human knowledge as a preliminary step in developing a naturalized epistemology premised on the conviction that there is a significant non-reductionistic ground of knowledge in biology.

During his student years Bergson’s works showed Piaget the importance of the biological framework of organism, environment and evolution; and Kant’s works showed him the importance of the knowing subject’s conceptual schemes for mediating a representation of the world of objects. Consequently, Piaget pursued dual doctoral studies in both biology and philosophy at the University of Neuchatel, but completed only the doctorate in zoology (1918). His philosophical studies shaped his life-long interest in a fundamental philosophical question that goes back to Plato’s dialogue, the Meno: whence new knowledge? How do we come to know—via a ground that is a priori (rationalist) or a posteriori (empiricist)? Because modern philosophers with few exceptions started their epistemological inquiries with the adult knower, Piaget turned to psychological research of the origins of the child’s knowing since children are not born knowing Newton’s physics or differential geometry.

He studied psychology briefly with C.G. Jung and Eugen Bleuler in Zurich, and also at the Sorbonne. In France while working with Alfred Binet on intelligence tests, he noticed a pattern of common mistakes among young children that older children and adults did not make. He found a qualitatively distinct capacity of intelligence (or intelligence capacity) at each successive level of development from the early child to the adult. This eventually led to his stage theory of cognitive development. In 1921 he returned to Switzerland as Director of the Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and then continued his research, theorizing and writing through a series of faculty appointments, including two in the philosophy and history of science, at the Universities of Neuchatel, Geneva, Lausanne and Paris. At the invitation of Wolfe Mays, Piaget delivered a series of lectures on formal logic and its significance for the study of intellectual activities in the developing child at the University of Manchester in England in 1952, subsequently published as Logic and Psychology, with an important introduction by Wolfe Mays. Shortly after that visit, in collaboration with Mays and others, Piaget established the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in 1955 which he directed until his death in 1980. The interdisciplinary work of the Center extended beyond psychology to a sophisticated structuralist and dialectical epistemology grounded upon and guided by Piaget’s three volume Introduction à l’Épistémologie Génétique (1950). These volumes show the significance of Piaget’s earlier psychological research and subsequent developmental theories of child intelligence for a generalized theory of the growth of human knowledge as a heuristic extension of the law that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The core of this new “genetic epistemology” is a Hegelian, that is to say, a dialectical appropriation of the Kantian knower-known epistemic unit and the biological organism-environment unit into a theory of the historical growth of scientific knowledge as a circle of interrelated sciences—the formal, physical, biological and social sciences. The reciprocal relationships among the sciences render the circle such that significant findings in one science eventually conflict with basic theories in other sciences, thereby presenting critical demands for significant changes in order to restore equilibrium to the circle. Because no science is complete and therefore each is provisional, the circle is continually open. Consequently, Piaget found the growth of scientific knowledge to be a pattern that transforms the circle into a historical, dialectical spiral of the sciences.

2. Genetic Epistemology and Organismic Vision

Piaget’s developmental theory is organismic, dynamic and constructivist. It models the knower-known relationship on the adaptation relationship of the interaction of the organism and environment. It is naturalist in holding that intelligence originates as the organism’s capacity to adapt to its environment, but it is non-reductionist in that it insists on the emergence of qualitatively distinct capacities for adaptation. Biologically, intelligence is the organism’s capacity, or set of skills, needed to organize itself in order to adapt to its changing environment. Cognitively, intelligence is the subject’s capacity, or set of skills, to more or less adequately represent the world.

A schema (Piaget’s term) is a repeatable pattern of the organism’s action on objects. Likewise a schema is a repeatable pattern of the knower’s cognitive representation of the world, not in the sense of a copy but as an adequate organization of the real. For example, the infant’s pattern of “grasping and placing” things in its mouth in an attempt to satisfy its hunger, or some other need, is a schema. In the very process of satisfying the more proximate biological need through the successful adaptation of this schema, the baby “discovers” new uses of the schema for acting on its world, for “exploring” its world in a sensorimotor interaction with it. As a child grows it learns to “abstract” the schema and reconstruct it at a “reflective” level whereby it extends schemata to assimilate new objects or situations. In Piaget’s theory, reflective abstraction is essential to the growth of knowledge in the individual and within the scientific community. It is the ability to differentiate the schemata of repeated interactions on various objects in practical contexts or higher level mathematical and scientific inquiry, to abstract the form of those schemata and coordinate them at the reflective level relative to the schemata’s operational level. This ability to abstract reflectively makes metalevel critique possible and enables Piaget’s naturalized epistemology to account for the normative dimensions of logic, mathematics and science. For the most part Piaget focused his studies of children on the elements that constitute the objective world of a mathematical and scientific inquiry, such as space, time, number, permanence, causality and conservation.

As a result of his studies of children’s understanding of their world, Piaget identified four temporally and logically sequenced stages according to the type of schemata: the sensorimotor stage (roughly ages 0-2), whose schemata coordinate sense perception and spatial movement to explore or understand the world; the preoperational stage (ages 2-7) coordinates motor skills but without any significant mental actions on objects; the concrete operational stage (ages 7-11) which exhibits logical thinking about concrete operations directed at objects and events but without an abstracted differentiation of the logical elements in its successful schemata; and the formal operational stage (ages 11-adult) which exhibits the ability to think and reason abstractly on a representation of the world. Piaget and his colleagues found that these stages have common features: the schemata of representations and logical operations of any stage are generalizable; each stage is an organized whole; each stage constitutes a qualitatively different level of knowing; there is a progressive filiation of the sequence of stages, with each successive stage appropriating aspects of the previous stages in the successive stage’s more differentiated schemata and the latter’s synthesis of the old with the new schemata; and, though the time in each stage may vary, the order of the sequence is not merely empirically correct but logically necessary because each new stage is constructed through further differentiation, coordination and synthesis of new structures out of the old.

For Piaget the knowing subject is in a dynamic assimilation-accommodation interaction with the world as it knows it. Schemata mediate the (child or adult) knower’s interaction with its world. Roughly, the knower is adequately adapted to its world if the set of schemata is sufficiently coordinated and equilibrated, so as to enable the child (or adult) to successfully interact with its world. No schema is pre-given but is a construction to accommodate aspects or events of the world. Successfully established schemata then serve as the means to assimilate the world as far as that schema go. Assimilation and accommodation are the correlative sides of adaptation. Assimilation is the subjective pull that tends to fit new “information” within an already stable stage sustained by a dynamic equilibration. Accommodation is the objective push from “outside reality” that can require new schema and re-equilibration, if a simple extension of the schema in question cannot accommodate the new situation without breaking down effective interaction. Because both the organism and the environment, and the knower and the known are constantly changing, the adaptation is never fully adequate. The schemata of the assimilation-accommodation interaction between subject and object are constantly challenged, and they never achieve a fixed permanent equilibrium except in the formal sciences of logic and mathematics. Consequently, there is a continual need for the subject to reconstruct its schemata, that is, its set of cognitive skills. As this develops, the initially biological subject decenters from its world as a biological environment and emerges as a cognitive subject via the re-equilibration of its own reconstructed schemata of interaction. Correlatively, the biological environment is transformed into an epistemically knowable world. Crossing the threshold between biology and knowledge is due to reflective abstraction which makes it possible to free the form of biological coordinations of the structures of the organism-environment interaction as potential content for newly emerging cognitive reconstruction. Since this reconstruction includes the construction of new schemata, Piaget’s constructivist theory does not hold that that the growth of knowledge is some kind of unfolding of innate or apriori intellectual abilities. Nor does it hold that the growth of knowledge is an acquisition from outside the subject. Rather the growth of knowledge is a dynamic process of continual reconstruction and re-equilibration by the subject interacting with its world, by a scientific community exploring the worlds of its respective disciplines.

Thus, human knowledge starts in primitive biological interactions in which the play of internal and external factors is indistinguishable. Once the emergent epistemic subject decenters from the organism-environment unit of interaction and continues the progressive differentiation and integration of the structures of cognitive assimilation, knowledge develops in two complementary directions. In structuring its external world in order to know it, the epistemic subject correlatively engenders its internal world of logic and mathematics. In Piaget’s theory (BK 26-28, 267, 354-56) this dual development occurs because of the internal relatedness, to use an apt Whiteheadian phrase, of the assimilation-accommodation interaction. The first of these directions is the “conquest of objects” or knowledge of the external world of nature. The second direction is a mastery of the interior world of logic and mathematics which emerges with consciousness of the structures of assimilative actions through reflective abstraction.

Piaget’s lifelong pursuit of what is his genetic epistemology took root in a richly fertile mixture of morphogenetic biology, the holist insights of his graduate professor, Arnold Raymond, and the philosophical work of Henri Bergson, Emile Meyerson and Immanuel Kant.

Piaget’s reading of Bergson’s Creative Evolution inspired his aspirations for a non-reductionist “biological epistemology.” Bergson’s contribution to Piaget’s thought is the adaptation approach to knowledge. In particular, the categories of organism, en­vironment and interaction had come to occupy a central place in Piaget’s adaptation theory of knowledge. Central to the theory is a fundamental analogy between biological embryogenesis and ev­olution, on the one hand, and mental “embryogenesis” and the evolution of knowledge on the other. The theory rejected the common presumptions of both em­piricism (as represented in behaviorist theories of learning) and ration­alism (as represented in Gestalt theories of knowing). Knowledge arises neither from a given self-conscious subject nor from a world of objects already constituted for the subject. Rather, knowledge arises out of ac­tions, specifically the adaptive interactions between the organism and its environment from which emerge respectively the epistemic subject and the epistemic world. Biological activity is a kind of pragmatic a priori relative to cognitive activity. Like the initial mitosis of a newly fertilized egg, the knowing subject and object begin to be differentiated by a process internal to “them.” Since there are no a priori cognitive structures between the sub­ject and the object in the epistemic sense, strictly speaking there is no epistemic subject. There is a biological subject that is superjecting (to borrow a phrase from Whitehead) into an epistemic subject. Piaget named this event the “bursting of instinct” (BK, 366-68) and characterized it as a depassment or Hegelian-like Aughebung naturalized. Knowledgeis explained as “generally the outcome of the interplay between reflective abstractions and convergent reconstructions with overtakings” (BK, 359). An illustrative case is the re-cognition that the solution to the problem of 3 – 7 = x (whether by children at a concrete operational level or by an adult dealing formally with the numbers) requires a move to a reflective level of abstraction at which the inquirer can integrate the whole positive numbers within a reconstruction that also includes zero and the negative whole negative numbers. Each such new discovery repeats the interplay that generates the cognitive subject’s “bursting of instinct.” Every genuine advance of knowledge is the reconstruction of the interface by which the cognitive subject-object differentiation and re-integration is achieved. The originating agency of the reflective abstraction and reconstructions required for crossing the threshold between biology and knowledge is neither a biological organism nor an epistemic subject but rather an agency in-between. Once the individual bursts through biological instinct, the emergent cognitive subject exhibits a lifelong tendency to extend itself into the world as far as possible through thought or mentality. Moreover, for Piaget, from the reflective level of the cognitive perspective the “convergent reconstructions with overtaking” are inherent in all living organization.

As genetic or developmental Piaget’s epistemology required two things: a way to describe cognitive development via the identifica­tion of its various stages, such as the sensori-motor or concrete opera­tional stages of a child’s intellectual growth; and an explanatory theory of the dynamic transformations between such stages. Piaget’s theory of structures (schemata) and his equilibration model of the genesis of cognitive structure (schemata) meet these two needs (S, Chapters 1, 2 and 4). The structuralist and equilibration theories have their roots in Piaget’s early thinking in response to the challenge that Bergson’s dualist view of mathematics and biology presented to Piaget’s aspiration toward, what be aptly named, an epistemology of organism. According to Bergson, scientific thinking could only represent the object of its thought by a spatial representation of external parts, like the relations between the frames of a filmstrip. Such a representation ultimately renders any whole as a mere sum of externally related parts, and so is incapable of grasping the holistic nature of the living organism without reducing it to a mechanistic sum of parts. The deeper reason for this result is Bergson’s central conviction that action itself does not admit of logical-mathematical representation because of the indivisible continuity of action’s temporal duration (CE, 98, 171). Piaget agreed with Bergson that organisms are irreducible, dynamic wholes. Emile Meyerson’s argument for the central necessity of the principle of identity and its a priori-like necessity in directing the mind to reduce differences to identity in order to unify nature (IR, 384, 420), and its acknowledgement that the that the principle denies real change and time, only exacerbated the dialectical tension Piaget found in Bergson’s dualist perspective on mathematics and biology. During his graduate studies his mathematics and philosophy professor, Arnold Raymond, suggested that logical and mathematical entities and principles are organic-like structural wholes. And studies of mathematical group theory further convinced Piaget that mathematics could accommodate biology.

At that time Piaget wrote two unpublished essays, which incorporated Raymond’s insight into his response to the Bergsonian challenge. Raymond’s notion of a “structure of the whole” provided the first essay “Sketch of a Neo-Pragmatism”(1917) with the basis of an argument by analogy. Just as the abstract activity of reasoning admits of a logic, and may be taken to supply the norms that guide and regulate sound reasoning, so too the concrete activity of human, as well as non-human, organisms may admit of logic if there are logical structures of the whole. At that time Piaget’s morphogenetic studies of mollusks highlighted the fact that certain patterns of internal organization are nec­essary for the healthy growth and development of an organism. Thus in the essay he argued that the function of such patterns of the concrete actions of organisms is analogous to the regulative role that logical patterns play in regard to reasoning. Furthermore, Piaget reasoned that if “action admits of a logic”, then “logic stems from a sort of spontaneous organization of acts” (A, 113).

Piaget’s second essay, “On Realism and Nominalism,” addressed the problem of the ontological status of species or kinds. It rejected any Platonism that countenanced the existence of ab­stracted mathematical forms or classes independent of either the cognitive activity of a knowing subject or the organic activity of a biological organism. Its positive contention was that classes, species, genera, and even individuals are real insofar as they are organized systems of internal1y related actions (A, 113; II, 6). In effect Piaget was putting forth an Aristotelean theme, viz., that to be is to act according to some internally embodied norm. In later writings he identified an organism as a generalized agency or center-organizing organization (BK, 148ff) and elsewhere (S, 5ff) characterizes organic systems or structures, as he preferred to call them, as a group of interactions among constituent components whose self-regulatory nature maintains the groups of interactions as a whole, and thereby, the actual identity and existence of the structure itself.

In his earliest conjectures on the theory of structures, Piaget realized that the principle of identity is not innately given in the knower. So he sought a more basic principle than identity, but which could both account for the emergence of the prin­ciple of identity (and others such as permanence or conservation) as necessary for scientific knowledge and accommodate a logic of action characteristic of the subject’s knowing. Piaget found his answer in the idea of equilibrium—a reciprocal balancing in the organizational interactions among the parts of a structure. Basic to this idea is the conviction that there is an ideal equilibrium wherein the actions of the whole and the parts mutually sustain one another, and that this equi­librium is the cognitive norm. Piaget put it this way: “the normative factors of thought [e.g. A = A and ~ (A·~ A)] correspond to a necessity of equilibrium by self-regulation: thus logic would in the subject correspond to a process of equilibrium” (II, 8). Logic then is an intellectual species of a generic self-regulation characteristic of orga­nisms. As a characteristic of organisms, which are themselves in a pro­cess of continual adaptation, such self-regulation is, in general, a process of establishing a mutual harmony or equilibrium between the organism in question and its world.

The question of the existence of an organized whole applies to all levels—living cell, organs, organism, species and societies. Piaget’s holist thesis asserted that in all fields of life—

organic, mental and social—there exist wholes that are qualitatively distinct from their parts and impose organi­zation on them (A, 114). Accordingly, there are four possible kinds of actions in a dynamic structure of the whole: (1) the action of the whole on itself (preservation); (2) the action of all the parts (alterations or preservations); (3) the actions of the parts on themselves (preservation); and (4) the action of the parts on the whole (alteration or preservation). These four kinds of actions are always present in a total structure. Since these actions may differ in their balancing of one another, the relationships between the whole and the parts vary from one structure to another. The ways in which these actions balance one another give rise to three possible forms of equilibrium: (1) predominance of the whole with alteration of the parts; (2) predominance of the parts with alteration of the whole; and (3) reciprocal preservation of the parts and the whole (A, 114). The first two forms of equilibrium, (1) and (2), in which there are coordinated interactions between the whole and the parts but with no mutual balance, are called real equilibrium. The last form, (3), in which there is mutual balance, is called ideal equilibrium because one, it maintains a stable state of mutual preservation through interactions among the whole and the parts, and two, all equilibriums tend toward an equi­librium of the ideal type (A, 117). Ideal equilibrium explains normative obligation of action and thought.

A few years after Piaget had articulated his ideas on structures of the whole he made his first contact with Gestalt psychology. This reaffirmed his initial thesis on the subordination of the parts to the organizing whole, providing experimental confirmation of a theory constructed and designed on that basis, He also found that the Gestalt theory of perception indicated that perception is a genuine type of real equilib­rium between the perceiver and the world, However, because the Gestalt theory lacked an “additive composition” (A, 126), that is, any explanation of how the Gestalt is derived from its parts, it could not explain the ideal forms of equilibrium as illustrated in the kind of structures peculiar to logical operations. This finding tended to support the developmental per­spective implicit in Piaget’s contention that real kinds of equilibrium tend toward the ideal kind. It also indicated that there are different successive levels of equilibrium.

Piaget’s early conjecture that logic is not inborn, but rather develops gradually from the organization of the organism’s actions as a dynamic structure, continued to cohere with his ideas on the formation of the equilibrium toward which the evolution of mental structures tend. The fundamental tendency to form an equilibrated structure has become the epistemological norm in Piaget’s system expressed as the principle of equilibration. The more Piaget investigated this tendency the clearer it became that an adequate episte­mology of structure needed to be integrated with a more genetic or developmental approach.

Thus it was out of the mixed beginnings of biology, philosophy and psychology that Piaget set out on the long road toward a developmental theory of scientific knowledge. The biological philosophy of Bergson, with its adaptation thesis of knowledge and Raymond’s thinking about a holistic logic of action constituted seminal elements of Piaget’s theory of structure, and Meyerson’s studies provided insights for the equilibrium model of a dynamic theory which could accommodate the genesis of structure. In addition, through all the early theorizing the need to establish a concrete connection between the biological structure and func­tions of adaptation and philosophical speculation about the origins of knowledge directed Piaget to psychological studies of the emergence of knowledge in children. As he saw the converging relationships among logic, action, structures of the whole, and equilibrium, a realistic project took shape. Recalling that moment, Piaget remarked:

Finally, my aim of discovering a sort of embryology of intelligence fit with my biological training; from the start of my theoretical thinking, I was certain that the problem of the relation between the organism and the environment extended also into the realm of knowledge appearing here as the problem of the relation between the acting or thinking subject and objects of his experience (A, 120).

It is no surprise to find that Kant’s epistemology exerted a formative and lasting influence on Piaget, for the internal relationship in the organism-environment interaction invites a Kantian perspective on knowledge that remained in his system since he first encountered Kant’s work during his baccalaureate days at Neuchatel. For Kant there can be no science of nature which assumes a separation of mind and nature such that the knowing mind simply copies, without mediation, what exists in the outside world. Rather the world of our experience, nature, is made of knowable objects precisely because their intelligible structure is constituted by the subject according to the categories of understanding in conformity with the forms of sensibility. Likewise, for Piaget, the knower is actively involved in constituting the intelligible structure of the world of her experience. Piaget appropriated two important features of the Kantian view on the relation between knower and known: first, that there exists an epistemic subject whose constructions (schemes of knowing) make up the understanding, or the intelligence, as Piaget often calls it; and second, that experience is structured by the epistemic subject according to its own structures of knowing. Piaget construed his task as a Kantian one—to elaborate a concept of an epistemic subject that is capable of the double function of structuring experience (which yields the actual world) and of indefinite constructability (which yields the world of possibility). The former capacity is important for the foundations of natural science and the latter is important for the foundations of logical-mathematical science. Together they are essential for a coherent epistemology which can explain the interrelationship of the sciences—what Piaget called the “circle of the sciences”—and which can recover the practice of the sciences as rational.

Although Piaget held great respect for Kant, he rejected his innate a priorism and his idealism. For Piaget the problem with the synthetic construction in the Kantian system is not that it posits underlying structures in the epistemic subject for the grounding of universal and necessary truths of logic and mathematics, but that such structures are logically pre-given. In teaching philosophy of science at the University of Neuchatel (1925-1929) and at the University of Geneva (1929-1932) among other activities, Piaget devoted the courses to the study of the development of concepts and theories in the history of science (cognitive phylogenesis). He did likewise for the development of similar notions (such as space or conservation) in the child (onto-genesis). He found that the “forms” and “categories” of knowing are not innately fixed and unchanging. Indeed the world of the two-year old child is different from that of the adult, precisely owing to a Kantian-like developing subjectivity. What distinguishes their respective worlds is the constitutive activity of the knower in respect to her knowable world. Piaget was quite convinced of the rational necessity and the constitutive structuring of experience, put forth in the Kantian synthesis, but as a terminus ad quem rather than as a terminus a quo. The important difference for Piaget is that such cognitive structures are neither innate nor fixed nor arrived at transcendentally; rather they are constructed by the subject in an adaptive interaction with her world. Moreover, those structures are the outcome of a successful equilibration between the knower and the real world. Their adequacy is “tested” by their success in sustaining cognitive equilibration in the interaction with a real world. Hence he rejects Kantian transcendental idealism for a critical realism not unlike Popper’s. Only in the retrospective stance of a reflective abstraction may the structures (schemata of cognitive interaction) be understood as antecedently necessary and only relative to their structural level of equilibrated cognitive interaction in a pragmatic way. What is more fully a priori is the subject’s equilibrating activity of the construction of structures of experience. Those grand structures of understanding—space, time, unity, substance, permanence, causality, etc.—are not innate in the subject. As structures of cognition they presuppose a genesis, i.e., the constructive activity of the emerging epistemic subject adapting to a correlatively emerging world.

In sum, Bergson’s insights on the relation of living and knowing organisms combined with Piaget’s biological training to introduce an adaptation perspective on the problem of the growth of knowledge. Raymond’s lesson on the holistic structure of logic and mathematics and Mayerson’s exposition of the regulative function of the principle of identity brought Piaget to see the promising significance of the functional role of equilibrium within structures-of-the whole. And, finally, the Kantian inheritance joined to the developmental and holistic themes directed Piaget toward his structuralist, interactionist interpretation of the relation between subject and object.

Piaget has had a wide ranging influence across education theory, developmental psychology, artificial intelligence, historical studies of thought and cognition, and philosophy. Perhaps his best known influence beyond developmental studies of mathematical and scientific cognition is on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage theory of moral development. But his influence has continued beyond moral development among others in the Saskatchewan team’s work on the emotions and development (e.g. Mark Flynn, 1995); in R. J. Robinson’s works, The History of Human Reason (2004) and The Birth of Reason (2005), on the stages of reason in history; and in J. Fowler’s work, Stages of Faith (1981), on the stages of religious development. His continuing influence is indicated by the worldwide membership and activity of the Jean Piaget Society ( Although Piaget has influenced such notable philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas, Thomas Kuhn, Bernard Lonergan and Michael Polanyi, his philosophical influence is otherwise surprisingly limited, especially given the strong philosophical strands in his thought and his interdisciplinary studies of such topics as mathematical, scientific and moral concepts and reasoning.

Works Cited and Further Readings


A          J. Piaget. “Autobiography” in R. Evans, Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas (1973).

BK       J. Piaget. Biology and Knowledge (1971 [1967]).

CE       H. Bergson. Creative Evolution (1960 [1911]).

II         J. Piaget. Insights and Illusions of Philosophy (1971 [1965]).

IR        E. Meyerson. Identity and Reality (1962 [1908]).

S          J. Piaget. Structuralism. (1970 [1968]).

Selected Works by Jean Piaget

1950. Introduction à l’Épistémologie Génétique, Vols. I-III (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France).

1953. The Origins of Intelligence in Children (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).

1953. Logic and Psychology, with an introduction to Piaget’s logic by Wolfe Mays (Manchester, Manchester University Press). Reprinted in The Essential Piaget, edited by H.E. Gruber and J.J. Voneche, pp. 445-77.

1966 (with E.W. Beth). Mathematical Epistemology and Psychology (Dordrecht, Reidel).

1970. Structuralism (New York, Harper and Row).

1971. Biology and Knowledge (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

1972. The Principles of Genetic Epistemology (New York, Basic Books).

1972. Psychology and Epistemology: Towards a Theory of Knowledge (Harmondsworth, Penguin Press).

1972. Insights and Illusions of Philosophy (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).

1973. “Autobiography” in R. Evans, Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas (New York, Dutton).

1974. The Place of the Sciences of Man in the System of Sciences (New York, Harper and Row).

1979. Behaviour and Evolution (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).

1980. Adaptation and Intelligence (London, University of Chicago Press).

1985. The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures: The Central Problem of Intellectual Development (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

1987. Possibility and Necessity, Vols. I-II (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press).

1989. (With R. Garcia). Psychogenesis and the History of Science (New York, Columbia University Press).

2001. Studies in Reflecting Abstraction (Hove UK, Psychology Press).

Works Cited

Henri Bergson. 1960 [1911]. Creative Evolution (New York, Harper and Row).

Emile Meyerson. 1962 [1908]. Identity and Reality (New York, Dover Publications).

Gruber, H. E. and Voneche, J. J. (eds.). 1977. The Essential Piaget: An Interpretive Reference and Guide (New York, Basic Books). This is most complete collection of Piaget’s work in one volume. The editors’ introductions and explanatory notes, which are very helpful, manifest a deep understanding of the Piaget corpus and its attendant interdisciplinary nature. In addition to this volume, philosophers will find useful Wolfe Mays’ respective introductions to three works by Piaget—Logic and Psychology, Insights and Illusions of Philosophy and The Principles of Genetic Epistemology.

Selected Secondary Sources on Piaget and Whitehead

Egan, Kieran. 1984. “Development in Education,” Journal of Philosophy of Education,18, 187-193.

Ferrari, Michael. 2003. “Moral Development as the Personal Education of Feeling and Reason: from James to Piaget,” Journal of Moral Education, 32, 4, 341-55.

Fetz, Reto L., “Whitehead, Cassirer, Piaget. Three Philosophers—A Common Paradigm,” Salzburg Theological Magazine 1999 (3): 154-168.

_____. 1984. “To the Genesis of Ontological Terms: For a Connection of Whitehead and Piaget Beginnings,” in Whitehead and the Idea of Process: Proceedings of the First International Whitehead-Symposium, edited by H. Holz and E. Wolf-Gazo (Freiburg, Alber), 220-39.

Fetz, R.L., Carolyn Wolf Spanier and John Sweeney (trans.). 1988. “On the Formation of Ontological Concepts: The Relationship between the Theories of Whitehead and Piaget,” Process Studies, 17, 262-72.

Flynn, Mark. “Conflicting Views on the Importance of Emotion to Human Development and Growth: Piaget and Whitehead,” Interchange 26, 4, 365-81.

Riffert, Franz. 2002. “On Non-Substantialism in Psychology—Convergences between Whitehead’s Process Philosophy and Piaget’s Genetic Structuralism,” International Journal for Field-Being, 2, 1, 1-25. Online Journal: IJFB.

_____. 1999. “Wahrnehmung aus der Perspektive der Prozessphilosophie,” Salzburger Theologische Zeitschrift, 3, 169-192.

_____. 1995. Whitehead und Piaget—Zur interdisziplinären Relevanz der Prozeßphilosophie (Wien, Peter Lang Publishing).

Siegel, Harvey. 1978. “Piaget’s Conception of Epistemology,” Educational Theory, 28, 16-22.

Author Information

Dominic J. Balestra
Philosophy Department
Fordham University, USA

How to Cite this Article

Balestra, Dominic J., “Jean Piaget (1896–1980)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.