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Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 6

Jean Piaget's scientific career began at the age of eleven with the publication of a brief notice on an albino sparrow and lasted nearly seventy-five years, resulting in more than sixty books and five hundred articles. Although often referred to as a child psychologist, Piaget was trained as a zoologist and considered himself an epistemologist (a person who studies the nature and development of knowledge). Piaget's fascination with children's reasoning began with his work on early Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests when he noticed that children's errors were systematic and followed a logic that was entirely different from that used by adults. Systematic observation of his own children and ingenious experiments and interviews with thousands of children and adolescents led Piaget to propose that knowledge develops in a series of stages. Each stage is marked by particular forms of thought that are constructed by the child through interaction with the world. This theory of stages coupled with Piaget's insistence that children play an active role in their own cognitive development had a profound impact on the field of education. Rather than viewing children as empty vessels to be filled with collections of facts, educators came to appreciate that children construct knowledge much like scientists do, by testing their ideas in action and by modifying their knowledge in response to environmental feedback. In a very real way, children produce their own development.

The roots of Piaget's theorizing can be seen in his autobiographical novel, Recherche, published in 1918 when he was just twenty-two years old. In it he describes a new science of organization that could be used to explain how it is that new and more powerful forms of knowledge can arise out of less powerful ones. Throughout his long career Piaget continued to explore this problem both in the thinking of children and in the history of science.

The breadth of Piaget's application of these ideas can be seen in the titles of some of his major works: Judgement and Reasoning in the Child; The Origin of Intelligence in the Child; Construction of Reality in the Child; The Child's Conception of Number; Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood; Intelligence and Affectivity; Biology and Knowledge; Sociological Studies; Psychogenesis and the History of Science; and Towards a Logic of Meanings. Recognition of Piaget's contributions include honorary doctorates from thirty-one universities and appointment to the Executive Council of United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Bringuier, Jean Claude. Conversations with Jean Piaget. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Smith, Les. Critical Readings on Piaget. London: Routledge, 1996.In the Jean Piaget Society [web site]. Available from http://www.piaget.org; INTERNET.

Chris Lalonde

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