Genetic Epistemology: Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was a well-known Swiss psychologist, whose work emphasized the topic of child development and the educations of children. His theories Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called ‘genetic epistemology’. “Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the meaning and origins of knowledge. Epistemology deal with deep questions like “What is knowledge?” and “Where does knowledge come from”. As a scholar, Piaget was fascinated by the science and the psychological development of children. To him biology and psychology were two parts of the same puzzle. All life forms followed the same developmental patterns to him. For example, natural selection is the foundation of developmental/ evolutionary biology. Organisms evolve to fit into a changing surrounding, those that cannot, die. Adapting takes intelligence, according to Piaget. Humans intellectually adapted to changing environments to survive by building tools and lifesaving technology. The intelligence that humans develop came from interacting with a variety of environments. He believed that intelligence was a biological process.

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Piaget described how children try to form a basic understanding of the world around them. “Mental representation, or the use of internal, mental symbols to represent things in the real world, was a fundamental component of human intelligence for Piaget, and something that he believed separated humans from other species”. Mental representation is what Piaget believed served as the transition between educational states. He believed children have the capability of using mental representation starting at the age of 2 but couldn’t fully understand the importance until they have reached the operational stage (age 7). Piaget believes mental representation is based upon two ideas, play and imitation. Play allows for children to express their understanding of the world that surrounds them. Through imitation, children simulate what they see their environment.

To test his theory, Piaget observed his own children ( two girls and one boy). For ten years, Piaget observed his children multiple times a day since birth. He did not use any standardized method to conduct his research. The participants were young babies and children, sometimes incapable of holding a direct conversation so he created his own methods. Piaget basically just wrote down everything he observed, with the help of his wife.

The first sub-stage that Piaget noted was reflexes, such as suckling, which gets modified as the infant interacts with their surroundings. The second sub-stage that Piaget noted was primary circular reactions, which involves children repeating an action that involves their own body. The third sub-stage that Piaget noted was secondary circular reactions happens around the 4th month I which the infant using objects to try and repeat something that interests them on their own body. The fourth sub-stage that Piaget noted was the coordination of the secondary schemas and their application begins around the 8th month. In this stage, the infant starts purposely acting on their environment to achieve a certain goal. The fifth sub-stage that Piaget noted was tertiary circular reaction. During this stage, the infant reenacts the same series of events but each event produces a different outcome/effect. The sixth sub-stage that Piaget noted was the invention of new means through mental combinations occurs between 18-24 months of age. During this stage, the infant observes a behavior, remembers the behavior for later, and then repeats the behavior. Piaget called this deferred imitation.  

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Genetic Epistemology: Jean Piaget. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved February 2, 2023 , from

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