Jean Piaget biography and theory

Jean Piaget - Toolshero

Jean Piaget (August 9, 1896 – September 16 1980) was a Swiss psychologist who gained fame for developing and publishing a systematic study of the developmental stages of children’s understanding. Jean Piaget is considered the most important figure within developmental psychology of the twentieth century. His theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are also known as genetic epistemology. This article highlights besides his biography, his contribution to psychology and theories also some of his famous quotes, books and publications. Enjoy reading!

Who is Jean Piaget? His biography

Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. His father was a lecturer in medieval literature at the University of Neuchâtel. His father was originally a Swiss and his mother, Rebecca Jackson a French.

At a young age, Jean Piaget developed a strong interest in biology and particularly mollusks. In his teenage years, he already became a well-known malacologist and wrote many a paper on the subject by the age of fifteen.

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He wrote his first article on mollusks at the age of eleven, with the subject being the albino mouse. The audience of his articles did not realize that the pieces were written by a teenager and considered him an absolute authority on mollusks.

After finishing high school, Jean Piaget began studying natural sciences and psychology before becoming a psychologist. In 1918, he received his doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel and began his postgraduate studies at the University of Zurich, which lasted until 1919.

During this period, he published two philosophical essays, which he himself described as adolescent works. Nevertheless, the works had an important influence on his way of thinking.

Professional career and his contribution to psychology

After completing his studies, Jean Piaget moved to Paris in France. He began teaching at the Grange-Aux-Belles Street School for Boys, which was headed by Alfred Binet.

Alfred Binet became known as the inventor and developer of the Binets intelligence tests. Piaget helped review the tests the children took at the facility.

Jean noticed a significant difference in the way young children gave answers to certain questions, compared to older children. This led him to suspect that young children go through different cognitive processes than those of older children and adults. He subsequently returned to Switzerland and started as the research director of the Rousseau Institute in Geneva.

Edouard Claparede was director of the institute at this time. Jean Piaget read about his theories on psychoanalysis and developed and strong interest in the psychology of young children.

Theory of cognitive development

Jean Piaget became particularly famous for his theory of cognitive development. He explained that this cognitive learning theory was made possible in part by studying his own children. He defined four stages of development:

  1. Sensory-motor stage
  2. Pre-operational stage
  3. Concrete operational phase
  4. Formal operative phase.

Jean Piaget published several books related to this theory of development and its influence on curriculum development.

Wife and childeren

During this time, he married Valentine Châtenay. The couple had three children. Jean Piaget studied his children closely from childhood. From 1925 to 1929 he was professor of psychology, sociology and philosophy of science at the University of Neuchâtel.

At the end of 1929, he became director of the International Bureau of Education (IBE). He held this position until 1968. In 1954 he was elected president of the International Union of Scientific Psychology. He held this position until 1957. Jean Piaget was also the director of the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology from 1955 to 1980.

He led an active life until his death and was professor emeritus at the University of Geneva from 1971 to 1980. Jean Piaget died in 1980 and was buried with his family in the Cemetery of the Kings in Geneva. He lived to be 84 years old.

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Famous quotes

  1. “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.”
  2. “Experience precedes understanding.”
  3. “Every acquisition of accommodation becomes material for assimilation, but assimilation always resists new accommodations.”
  4. “How much more precious is a little humanity than all the rules in the world.”
  5. “I could not think without writing.”
  6. “The universe is built up into an aggregate of permanent objects connected by causal relations that are independent of the subject and are placed in objective space and time.”
  7. “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.”
  8. “Punishment renders autonomy of conscience impossible.”
  9. “I always like to think on a problem before reading about it.”
  10. “The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.”
  11. “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.”
  12. “What we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see.”
  13. “Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.”
  14. “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.”
  15. “Play is the work of childhood.”
  16. “Every structure is to be thought of as a particular form of equilibrium, more or less stable within its restricted field and losing its stability on reaching the limits of the field.”
  17. “We shall simply say then that every action involves an energetic or affective aspect and a structural or cognitive aspect, which, in fact, unites the different points of view already mentioned.”
  18. “So we must start from this dual nature of intelligence as something both biological and logical.”

Books and publications by Jean Piaget et al.

  • 2017. The child’s conception of physical causality. Routledge.
  • 2013. Child’s conception of movement and speed. Routledge.
  • 2013. The moral judgment of the child. Routledge.
  • 2013. Mathematical epistemology and psychology (Vol. 12). Springer Science & Business Media.
  • 2008. The psychology of the child. Basic books.
  • 2003. The psychology of intelligence. Routledge.
  • 1978. Three theories of child development.
  • 1973. The child and reality: Problems of genetic psychology.(Trans. Arnold Rosin). Grossman.
  • 1973. Main Trends in Psychology. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
  • 1970. Genetic epistemology. Columbia University Press.
  • 1968. Structuralism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • 1967. Six Psychological Studies. New York: Vintage Books.
  • 1963. The language and thought of the child. Ohio: The World Publishing Company.
  • 1955. The child’s construction of reality.

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Original publication date: 03/21/2022 | Last update: 04/13/2023

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Ben Janse
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Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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