Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Jean William Fritz Piaget was a Swiss born developmental psychologist and philosopher. He was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on the 9th of August 1896, the eldest child of Arthur Piaget and Rebecca Jackson. His brilliance in academia and interest in the natural world was evident at age 11 in Neuchâtel Latin High School when he wrote a short paper about the Albino Sparrow. After graduating from High School, Piaget attended the University of Neuchâtel and obtained a Ph.D in Natural Sciences in 1918. He also studied briefly in the University of Zurich. He became interested in psychoanalysis and moved from Switzerland to Paris, France in 1919. He worked and taught at the boys school Grange-Aux-Belles with Alfred Binet who was the developer of the Binet Intelligence Test. He then worked with De Simon and Binet on intelligence tests and found an interest in cognitive responses and differences between adults and children. In 1921 he returned to Switzerland to become the director of the Rousseau Institute in Geneva.

Jean Piaget and Valentine Châtenay

Alfred Binet ( 1857-1911)

In 1923 he married Valentine Châtenay. They had three children: Jacqueline, Lucienne and Laurent. Piaget studied them from infancy until they developed speech.

He directed at Rousseau Institute until 1925. He accepted the position of Director of the International Bureau of Education in 1929 and remained there until 1968. He also took up chairs at different organizations; Psychology, Sociology and History of Science at Neuchâtel from 1925 to 1929; History of Scientific Thinking at Geneva from 1929 to 1939; Psychology and Sociology at Lausanne from 1938 to 1951; Sociology at Geneva from 1939 to 1952; Genetic and Experimental Psychology from 1940 to 1971; and he created and directed the International Center for Genetic Epistemology from 1955 until his death in 1980. In 1964, Piaget was invited to serve as chief consultant at two conferences at Cornell University (March 11–13) and University of California, Berkeley (March 16–18), these two conferences addressed the relationship between cognitive studies and curriculum . He was awarded the Balzan Prize for Social and Political Sciences in 1979.

"In genetic epistemology, as in developmental psychology, too, there is never an absolute beginning" -- Jean Piaget.

Jean Piaget's work in Cognitive Development consists of four phases ;

  • First Piaget: The Sociological Model of Development.
  • Second Piaget: The Sensorimotor/Adaptive Model of Intellectual Development.
  • Third Piaget: The Elaboration of the Logical Model of Intellectual Development.
  • Fourth Piaget: The Study of Figurative Thought.

Throughout his research in developmental psychology and genetic epistemology, he had one question in mind: how does knowledge grow? Piaget's answer in his research shows that the growth of knowledge is a progressive construction of logically embedded structures superseding one another by a process of inclusion of lower, less powerful means to higher and more powerful ones, up to adulthood. Therefore, children's logic and modes of thinking are completely different from an adult's.

"Logic and mathematics are nothing but specialized linguistic structures." -- Jean Piaget

Jean, Valentine and their children; Lucienne, Laurent and Jacqueline.

An example of the profound influence that Piaget had, is seen in the Jean Piaget Society. It is a global society of fans of Piaget's work and it holds conferences every year and attracts many admirers from around the World.

List of Honorary Doctorates:
  • 1936 Harvard
  • 1946 Sorbonne
  • 1949 University of Brazil
  • 1949 Bruxelles
  • 1953 Chicago
  • 1954 McGill
  • 1958 Warsaw
  • 1959 Manchester
  • 1960 Oslo
  • 1960 Cambridge
  • 1962 Brandeis
  • 1964 Montreal
  • 1964 Aix-Marseille
  • 1966 Pennsylvania
  • 1966 Barcelona
  • 1970 Yale

Piaget's theories and research are inspirations all over the world in fields like Psychology, Sociology, Evolution, Philosophy, Economics, Morality, Primatology, Epistemology, Education and Law.

"Jean Piaget is the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing" -- Ernst von Glaserfeld.

Jean Piaget died 16 September, 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Bust of Jean Piaget in Parc des Bastions in Geneva, Switzerland.