Henri Wallon

Genetic Psychology

Written: 1956
Source: La psychologie génétique in The World of Henri Wallon;
Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith;
Publisher: Jason Aaronson 1984;
Transcription / Markup: Nate Schmolze;
Online Version: Wallon Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2001.

The field of genetic psychology is the study of the formation and transformation of the psyche. It may apply to the living world as a whole, to the human species, or to the individual human being. When applied to the entire living world, one of the basic problems of genetic psychology is to discover or to define the origins of mental life — for to accept the thesis of an initial and continuous coexistence of mental life and life in general is impossible.

The ever more detailed study of the specific reactions of living matter has eventually placed its origins on the purely molecular level. What degree of organisation and structural complexity has to be reached before psychical activity becomes a possibility? Does mental life have any specific defining quality? Is it unique? Is it constant and permanent? Was its development dependent upon the sudden emergence of a fresh principle? Or was it rather the outcome of an organised being’s relationship to its surroundings-a relationship that enabled it to confront unchanging environmental conditions with an autonomy and diversity of means requiring the action of forces other than the external ones then in play? If so, what is the origin of these forces specific to the living organism? The obvious answer is that they are accounted for by the level of physiological organisation attained. But since we believe that this organisation reacts entirely after the fashion of a well-designed mechanism, it is hard to see how its effects, no matter how complex or remarkable, could be described as psychic.

The psyche’s contribution to the living organism’s behaviour is what enables it to transcend the limiting conditions of the immediate moment by introducing new factors-including the record or trace of earlier experiences. Thus the faculty which retains experience has sometimes been looked upon as the starting point in the development of the psyche. However, the modification of living matter or of its reactions by its own past is a phenomenon of biological plasticity so common that it cannot be said to be of a psychical nature per se. This phenomenon may occur at levels no higher than those of ordinary adaptation, routine, passive behaviour and fixed capacity with no intrinsic potential for development. The mental faculty of memory must be a more complex one; it must be able to be enriched by evocative associations that lend a greater power of discrimination in the face of varied situations.

It may be that the difference between routine and memory is merely a difference in level; the step from one level to the other could be made by the same organism or species, with periods of sensitisation and innovation alternating with stereotyped patterns and periods of stagnation. It may be that the same organic structure can be closed or open to the influence of stimuli according to whether it is governed by a principle of inertia or a principle of variability. Complexity of structure is not the only question at issue; the type of relation the organisation has to its milieu either keeps its reactions on the level of physiological mechanism or carries them on to that of the psyche.

The organism’s structure, however, opens up greater or lesser possibilities to the psyche. Thus comparative anatomy, which enables us to classify functional apparatuses in terms of an evolutional scale, is an indispensable guide in the psychogenetic study of animal species. To consider the line of vertebrates alone, the cephalisation of the earlier metameres provides the whole organism with the potential for coordinated actions that can superimpose themselves upon purely medullar reflexes and which may in time postpone, suppress, or combine these reflexes. In short, these coordinated actions can make a stimulus ineffective or modify its effects, as the encephalon levels of activity are superimposed one upon the other. It is of great help in defining each successive level and in grasping its novelty or superiority, to compare it with the increasingly complex structure of the organism. Thus the studies of morphogenesis and psychogenesis must go hand in hand.

This method facilitates an analysis of functions, with the advantage of helping us comprehend their unity as well as the variety of their component parts. It does not break down the whole into fragments on the basis of more or less arbitrarily chosen similarities or contrasts, as consciousness does when it starts out from itself from what is in its reflective form the highest stage of the psyche’s evolution. Rather, this method traces the development of the psyche through differentiations that increase the number of situations to which it can respond with specific reactions, reactions that on occasion elevate it to new levels of existence, as occurs for instance when man reaches the level of social life. Yet whatever changes or revolutions may result for the species, the genetic links between these successive life forms show what they may continue to have in common, and how it is possible for the earlier life forms, tinder specific circumstances, to engender the later.

We are not entirely dependent on observation of behaviour in its natural setting; experimentation is also possible. By imposing artificial but strictly determinate conditions upon an animal, we can learn the ways in which it is capable of reacting. Sometimes these conditions may entail problems that could be given to a human adult or child. This approach has been adopted notably in the study of anthropoids, both through tests designed to evaluate practical intelligence by posing obstacles to fulfilment of needs or desires and with experiments intended to confirm lack of aptitude for language. Language is, in fact, the essential step biological evolution has enabled man to make. Within his nervous system are centres that make speech possible. Once he can give names to things, and to the relations between things, he is able to evoke them in their absence, to combine at will the images he has of them, to transmit his knowledge, and to receive the knowledge of others. From this arises the possibility of civilisations increasing their heritage from one age to the next. Though individuals die, the cultural baggage they have acquired endures and multiplies-not without friction, of course, or without backward steps. Man is himself transformed by the mental, technical, and social products that language has permitted him to create. One of the themes of genetic psychology is the comparison of intelligence with and without language, before and after the emergence of language.

In terms of our species, genetic psychology still has a good many questions to answer, and our knowledge of the transition from primate to man is full of gaps. It would appear that evolution proceeded here via a series of far-flung and incomplete prefigurations or anticipations. Morphogenesis and psychogenesis are not always in step. Thus skeletons with still partly simian features may be found beside tools and traces of tombs. The existence of even the crudest toolmaking, and of the most elementary rites, is nevertheless usually taken as the decisive criterion for the presence of an embryonic humanity.

The histories of culture and psychogenesis, while closely related, are not one and the same. Each individual bears the mark of the culture that governs his existence and imposes itself on his activity. The language he acquires from it moulds his thoughts and structures his understanding. His movements are governed by the instruments his language puts into his hands. The organisation of the family and the relations between children and adults, between the sexes, between individual and collectivity-all impose more or less rigid frameworks upon the individual’s affectivity; they impose imperatives and prohibitions that can profoundly influence the individual’s constitution.

The history of cultures concerns itself with the different milieus in which the individual of each period and region of the world has had to develop. Psychogenetic studies seek to show the effects of these milieus on individuals. This task is a difficult one, for while deductive procedures must be avoided, the evidence from observation is scarce.

Certain general questions may be raised, however, and answers to them hazarded on the basis of particular cases. First of all, can the imprint of culture upon the psyche be transmitted by heredity? For instance, could a child whose social environment had been changed at birth retain tendencies derived from the language spoken by his parents, which he had never heard-tendencies that might interfere with his successful mastery of the language of his environment and even lead him to introduce specific traits of the parental language into the adoptive one? Some eminent linguists have upheld this view as a reasonable hypothesis. Against it, we may invoke the often observed fact that a child up to seven or eight years of age can completely forget his own first language with the utmost facility if he is moved to a new linguistic milieu where there is nothing to remind him of his former environment. Such is the plasticity of the nervous system, at least during the first years of life, that where circumstances demand, the referential system essential to mental activity may be replaced in its entirety by an alternative one.

When we consider man’s reasoning capacities, a similar question arises which has received a similar reply: Is there a “primitive mind” determined not only by the environment but also by an innate structure of the nervous system? Here again, however, empirical evidence counters the argument for heredity: cases have been cited of children born into primitive societies but raised from the earliest months of infancy under the conditions of European civilisation. The children in question were successfully educated to levels requiring the use of the most abstract logic. Such isolated cases are arguably on the point of becoming a massive phenomenon, for we live in a time when this kind of switch in intellectual regime is the widespread accompaniment of the political emancipation of peoples hitherto kept by diverse forms of oppression at an archaic level of civilisation.

The major precondition of psychical progress in human beings seems to be the continuing availability of the mental apparatus, rather than any inheritance of engrams increasing in size from generation to generation. But this availability is not uninfluenced by other factors. It reflects functional balances that are favourable only when corresponding to the essential tasks of a given period and which consequently vary according to the type of culture.

Mental activities are differently oriented and have a varying order of importance depending on the dominant interests of the society in question, and especially for peoples whose style of life is the most homogeneous-that is, for so-called primitive societies. It therefore may be that aptitudes which were at first dominant gave way in time to others, such as emotional force, conceptual acuity, and intellectual reflection. Being more highly valued and more often used, these various functional domains are likely to acquire a pragmatic superiority, to characterise the representative type of a particular social group, to affect social and perhaps even biological selection, and to engender those characteristic patterns used to specify “races.” In this limited sense heredity might be said to play a role in the psychogenesis of the human species; even so, it has not been able, at least in historical times, to precipitate any authentic mutation.

On the individual level, genetic psychology studies the transformation from child to adult. Some people used to claim that this evolution was covered by Haeckel’s formula to the effect that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis. It was argued that the successive forms of the child’s behaviour, particularly as manifested in play, represented a telescoped repetition of the basic activities of ancestral peoples. But the analogies invoked were either too trivial, too vague, or too spurious, and the parallel turned out to be as implausible as it was useless.

Psychogenesis in man is bound to two sets of conditions: the first organic and the second having to do with the environment, which is the source from which the child derives motives for reactions. The newborn of our species is unusually far from maturity; witness the inadequacy of his motor, perceptual, and intellectual capacities. Although he already possesses all the neurons he will ever have, most of them are in no state to function, owing to the absence of needed interconnections. Only very gradually will the neurofibrillar extensions become capable of conducting the influx of nervous excitation. Eventually,, however, all the circuits will have been closed up, one by one. Each circuit is responsible for carrying out a particular function, and once it has been connected, we say that the corresponding function has reached maturity; the circuit is the function’s starting point, so to speak. But a particular function’s subsequent development is subject to great variation according to the opportunities it has to manifest itself.

The role of environment then comes into play. Environment is the function’s indispensable complement. Without it the function would have no object and would remain a mere potential or atrophy altogether. At first, the environment may be a purely playful one, in which function seems to discover itself, try itself out, or simply practice without any useful or necessary purpose in view. This may be seen in children and also in young animals, as when kittens stalk balls of wool, pounce on them, toss them away, and then pounce again, proceeding just as if the ball were a mouse. The function needs appropriate stimuli even if these are imaginary. During this early period, the function establishes links with a variety of activities, both sensory and motor, and it is on such links that later aptitudes sometimes viewed as autonomous will in fact depend. Such aptitudes owe their efficiency or deficiency to earlier successes or failures in the formation of basic associations.

This kind of gap in the construction of the psyche has been well illustrated by Leontiev and his co-workers in connection with children who are unable to reproduce a tune that is well known to them. What such children lack is not musical capacity; rather, they have failed, in the playful period of their vocal learning, to establish audiokinesthetic associations on the basis of tone. Other links have prevailed in an exclusive way, such as those enabling them to learn to speak: the associations between movements of the voice and articulation, and between acoustic elements other than pitch. The speedy re-education of these children by means of exercises relating the voice to the musical scale confirmed this conclusion.

Psychogenesis is not automatic; it is not a necessary progression. Step by step the maturation of the nervous system clears the way for different sorts or levels of activity. But maturation must be complemented by a practice as diversified as possible. This need for diversity, of course, assumes an initial lack of determination. By contrast, an activity whose functional circuit is constituted from the outset takes the form of stereotyped behaviour that cannot continue

to develop. This is what happens in most animals. Man’s superiority is related to his need for prolonged and successive learning processes whereby each initially ineffective function must discover its different potentialities, and establish interfunctional connections as complex as current circumstances permit, or as future, circumstances may require.

These interlocking connections are the only reason for speaking of continuity in the psychogenetic progression, for there are no original connections. Even supposing that the maturation of the nervous system-that is, its biological preparation for functioning -came about in a uniform fashion, rather than in distinct phases or periods, it would still suffice for two formerly separate centres to link up for entirely new activities to emerge capable of transforming the conditions of existence and the behaviour of the child. Every nursemaid notices the difference in stages indicated by the transition from the period when the infant is confined to crib or playpen to that when he toddles across the room: the sort of care he needs and the sort of precautions that have to be taken have changed, and a little revolution has taken place in his demands as well as in the ends and means of his activities. Psychologists, with their analytical and theoretical approach, must also recognise such changes, whether sudden or, because of transitional or mediating factors, more gradual. Almost all psychologists speak of stages, phases, or periods-all terms evoking the observable existence of discrete segments, each with specific characteristics and with its own import in the course of psychogenesis.

Admittedly, the designations change from one author to the next, according to individual conceptions of mental development. Following Piaget, some authors claim that a single type of operation is carried out at the various levels of mental life, though it is appropriately and specifically transformed in each case. Thus, what appears as the alternative between assimilation and accommodation is said to re-emerge on the verbal and intellectual planes as the distinction between conceptualisation and reasoning. The various operations corresponding to these transpositions follow one another in rigid sequence, and can be organised into a progression of stages. The resulting conception of the stages is consequently very hierarchical: there is a bottom-to-top hierarchy in terms of temporal development, and a top-to-bottom hierarchy from the speculative point of view. Logistics play an important and in some sense normative role in Piaget’s system.

For other authors the notion of stage is less systematic. Psychogenesis is closely tied to successive modes of relationship to the environment, both human and physical. These relationships are based on the means available at each age, and determine the successive stages of the personality. At the first stage, immediately following birth, the relationships are unorganised. Only the respiratory function has become autonomous. The alimentary function in the suckling is still dependent on the maternal organism, even though the infant is now separate from its mother. The musculature’s predominant response to interoceptive and proprioceptive stimuli, as well as to external excitations, is a simple nondirected discharge with no object besides resolving a tension as yet unrestrained by an inhibitory mechanism. Here we are at the lowest level of psychomotor activity. This stage may be called the impulsive stage because in this period acts are neither constrained nor determined by any consideration apart from their intrinsic need for realisation. No doubt impulsiveness may recur later, during more advanced stages: an action performed in such circumstances, though more highly structured, will evade already constituted inhibitions. In infancy, however, there is a total absence of inhibitory systems, and we have impulsiveness in its pure state.

Before long, sensory impressions resulting from circumstances that generally accompany the satisfaction or frustration of the infant’s essential needs become bound to the manifestations of these needs, and thus constitute a first set of conditioned associations. From this set, certain associations are singled out because of their frequent and regular occurrence-namely those which are bound up with the presence of people who are constantly caring for the infant, especially the mother. On this basis, an entire expressive signal-language of mimicry and gesture is built up between mother and child according to their reciprocal dispositions of the moment. At first, this language is the child’s only way of obtaining useful results from his surroundings, for nearly all his other gestures are completely ineffectual. In humans the affective relationship with the entourage first dominates behaviour. By the age of six months, the range of emotional exchange with the immediate milieu is almost completely mastered, a fact that justifies calling the next stage the “emotional stage.” The Pavlovians go so far as to maintain that this precocious and active intuition of the meaning of facial expressions is not derived solely from experience, but that it presupposes the existence of a basic instinct or unconditioned reflex known as the “animation reflex.”

While the infant’s relationship to the environment is still tinder the sway of emotions, specific reactions are already preparing the way for the next stage: the sensorimotor stage. The activity displayed during this stage must also, according to Pavlov, be attributed to a sort of functional need, in this case to what he calls the “orientation-investigation reflex.” Often difficult to detect in dogs, and very active and even uncontrollable in monkeys, this reflex in man informs all kinds of curiosity directed toward outside objects. Its advent is heralded in the child by progress in manual activity-by the beginning of true manipulation. At the outset, the child’s hand grips, then it grasps an object, but only in a general and precarious way and without being able to do anything except shake it, let it go, grasp it once more, rip it apart and scatter the pieces-all after the fashion of the monkey. True manipulation, involving the exploration of shapes and structure, and the disassembly and reassembly of parts, appears only at the sensorimotor stage beginning around eight to ten months.

Such differentiated exploratory activity is bound to a whole group of specifically human functions. Engels correctly showed that this activity is related to man’s upright posture-which, by freeing the hands from their supporting and clinging functions, gave free rein to man’s cognitive faculties and manual facility for taking things apart and reconstructing them; in short, the attainment of the upright posture permitted man to objectify things. In the child these advances are linked to advances in balance, first to the achievement of the sitting position, which already increases his freedom to manoeuvre, then to successful walking, which has the effect of extending manual space to the entire environment.

A second aspect of this group of functions is the superiority of one hand (generally the right) over the other; one hand becomes the initiator of action, and the other becomes its auxiliary. This disparity is meant to guarantee the cohesion of complex and combined actions, such as those called for by the manufacturing of objects. The biopsychic significance of this is evident in the fact that the cerebral hemisphere governing the dexterous hand (the left hemisphere in right-handed individuals) is also the one where the cortical centres of language are found. This anatomical and functional lateralisation gives man the wherewithal to create for himself not only a stock of implements for modifying things in accordance with his needs or inclinations, but also a stock of signs with which to assign things mental equivalents.

There is nothing remarkable in the fact that the beginnings of speech in the child coincide with the perfecting of bimanual activity. Among the child’s first questions are those concerning the names of things. His illusion that the name is part of the thing, or rather, that the two are identical, has often been noted. During this time of voluntarism and syncretism the word is a way of actualising the thing, either because it calls for and brings about its real presence or else because it conjures up an image which usually precedes the thing’s real presence and which is often able to take its place, since, owing to conditioned associations, it can procure more or less the same effects. The word, just like the hand, is a means of objectively exploring the realities and meanings of the outside world. In this way the word plays its part in the exploratory stage. Later, of course, language will serve other ends related to the mental and intellectual development of the individual or of the society.

The sensorimotor stage does not come to an end before adumbrations of the following period-the personalist stage-have manifested themselves. Both the emotional stage which precedes it and the personalist stage which follows are distinct from the exploratory stage in that their orientation is subjective, whereas the exploratory stage is oriented toward the world of things. Such an alternation in the development of functions is not unusual. Sensorimotor activity detaches the child from his exclusive relations with people and leads him to the discovery of objects. In the meantime, however, his relations with people have not changed their character: they are still typified by affective contagion and confusion. His next task is to escape from that alienation of himself in others which has resulted from his total inability up to now to resolve by himself any of the situations confronting him.

His first move in attempting to extricate himself is to take a role in play situations. He plays the active and passive roles alternately: the one who hits and the one who is hit; the one who hides, the one who seeks; the one who throws the ball, the one who catches it. These games of role alternation allow the child to recognise himself, though still in a neutral and anonymous way. He inhabits the two poles of a single situation without yet choosing one or the other and making that his personal locus. He is no more able to identify himself consistently than he is to identify his antagonist. He remains prey to uncertain fluctuations and full of ambivalence. All this, however, leads up to the moment when he will, in fact, take up one position or the other, often for no other reason than the need to do so. This move is the first sign of what has been called the period of personalism.

The personalist stage, which begins around three years of age, may itself be broken down into several phases. The first one sees the disappearance of games of alternation, and particularly of the two-voice dialogues children often hold with themselves, pretending to be each speaker in turn. Now the child begins to assert himself in a provocative way. “Me” and “I” replace the third person, which has been used up to now to refer to himself. He becomes contrary in relation to other people without any seeming motive other than that of experiencing a feeling of independence. His demands and whims seem occasioned more by self-love than by their ostensible objects. He extends his claims to things, proclaiming his ownership of objects from which he can derive no satisfaction. This phase of purely formal rejections and pretensions arises from the child’s need to recognise the existence of his own person and to have it recognised by others. It will give way after a few weeks or months to the pressure of a new need-the child’s desire to valorise his newly acquired personality, to have its virtues acknowledged, and to show it off.

This second phase is what Homburger calls the age of grace and it corresponds to what the psychoanalysts call “narcissism.” Instead of “No, I don’t want it ... It’s mine ... I’ll lend it, not give it,” we start to hear “Watch me do it.” The former aggressive or arrogant tone becomes conciliatory or wheedling.

Then, in a third phase of the personalist stage, another turnabout occurs. The virtues the child finds in himself are no longer sufficient for him, and he sets out to appropriate those of others. Now it is not only admirers that he seeks in his entourage but also models. A competitive spirit brings about an alternation between, or combination of, the hostile tendencies of the first phase and the conciliatory tendencies of the second. Mimetism has passed from the level of gesture to the level of personality. The child is looking in others for a personality for himself. To imitate someone is first of all to admire him, but also in some degree to want to take his place-hence the air of confusion and guilt that may occasionally be observed in a child caught in one of these acts of usurpation through imitation.

Naturally the respective importance of these phases varies according to the education and character of the child, and one phase may be eclipsed by another. It may also be the parents’ job to counter an over-exuberant expression of one phase by encouraging another phase, which in some respects tends in the opposite direction. This type of compensation is only possible, however, by virtue of the fact that these phases are complementary.

This individualistic development of the personality has another side. During this stage the child in search of autonomy is really only submitting himself to those influences from which he appears to be achieving freedom. For systematic opposition is merely another form of subjection; showing off means subjection to the other person’s approval; imitation means subjection to an external model. In actuality, the child’s first efforts to detach himself from his entourage can only make him more aware of how tightly he is bound to it. His place there cannot be discerned independently of its context. The only consciousness of which he is capable is a general one. The family milieu in which he has been plunged since birth is immutable; his relationships within it are inescapable. How can he detach himself from these relations when he belongs to the constellation of his kinfolk as much as he belongs to himself? Should this constellation change, should he undergo real or imaginary frustrations within it, he suffers with the whole of his being. This is the age of “complexes” — which can have repercussions even on his neuro-vegetative life and compromise not only his mental but also his bodily development.

Although this stage of near confusion and intimate conflict between self and other cannot be avoided and although it is indeed necessary for the future harmonisation of ego-other relationships, it is a good idea if the child is not subjected during this period to the exclusive influence of his family and if, in anticipation of the next stage, he is also able to spend time in less strictly structured and less emotionally charged surroundings. Attendance at kindergarten is one possible solution.

We come now to the school age-the age when the child’s relation with his entourage can become more diverse, more elective, more open; he can join groups of more varied composition in which his place, far from being irrevocably fixed, depends more on himself, on his preferences or qualities. He gradually develops a feeling that his personality is polyvalent and hence looser. His is one personality among others, capable of entering into varied and changeable combinations. He can now distinguish the unit from the whole. Intellectually, he can learn to read by combining letters, and to handle figures. He is beginning to classify objects on the basis of specific properties. Confused and specific links between one thing and another gradually give way to well-defined resemblances or distinctions between categories of objects based on common traits. Progress, however, is very slow. The entire fabric of the syncretic thinking of the young child has to be torn apart. The last traces of this type of thinking will not disappear until the age of eleven or twelve.

By the end of the personalist stage the objectivity of the child’s ordinary thought seems indistinguishable from that of the adult. In this respect the stage may be looked upon as a continuation of the sensorimotor stage, which is also directed, albeit at a more primitive level, toward knowledge of the outside world. Next, as though to confirm the tendency for the stages to alternate between periods oriented toward objective reality and others devoted to the construction of the individual, comes puberty, which some psychologists have likened to the personalist stage between the ages of three and five. Although these two stages have in common the attribute of being especially fertile in subjective changes, the differences between them are not hard to see.

Puberty is a biological event whose psychological and social importance has been underscored in the past by a plethora of rites of purification and initiation, as well as by the literature and art of all time. However, the extent and intensity of its mental effects vary a great deal according to differences in the organisation of life at different times and in different social classes.

Puberty effects the transition from childhood to adolescence. Its morphological and physiological consequences are well known: the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics, which accentuate the difference between the sexes, and specifically genital reactions-the beginning of menstruation in girls for example. At the same time erotic needs make themselves felt-needs which, though not unknown to the child, could find an outlet for him in solitary gratification; now, with puberty, they become a broad aspiration of the individual being toward the discovery of an indispensable complement.

The prelude to this search is a feeling of disorientation toward oneself, one’s past, one’s habits, and one’s family. The individual feels himself becoming another. He is unsure whether it is himself or his environment that is changing. He would gladly accuse another of wreaking this havoc, yet at the same time he desires change himself. He also fears it. He recognises his own contradictions and feels anxious about them. Eventually he gets the impression that he is living in a mystery. He accepts this, though somewhat fearfully. He muses constantly about himself, about his loved ones, about the secret of the universe. He wonders about the reality of things and about their origins.

Soon, however, the future wins out over the past. He has dreams with the alternating or combined themes of domination and self-sacrifice. Ambivalence is a constant theme, as is sexual possession,

which is at once active and passive. This is the age of religious, metaphysical, political, or aesthetic fervour, followed by a preoccupation with the notion of an ideal being to complement one’s own person; whether imaginary or real, this being is endowed with every desirable attribute and charm.

Such sentimental meanderings do not reach the same intensity in everyone. They may be held in cheek by the practical demands of life or by direct contact with the realities of day-to-day existence, particularly in the shape of an early need to earn one’s living. Alternatively, they may be transformed into instability, into escapist or dissipated behaviour. In any event, whether they are checked or allowed full rein, these emergent needs have a profound transformative effect on the child’s character and his intelligence, adding a completely new dimension to them. They confront the individual with the question of his destiny and responsibilities. They incite him to reflect upon the raison d’étre and value of what surrounds him. Even if he chooses to override them, he has gained access to ethical ways of thought and is no longer content to grasp things as they appear to be, but rather seeks to apprehend the laws that govern their existence; whether such laws are magical or scientific is no concern of the psychogenetic approach, for that depends solely on the current level of civilisation.

The task of adolescence amounts to keeping a balance between mental possibilities that are still not clear and the realities of the future. Progress still has to be made so far as character and intellectual capacities are concerned. But the level has now been reached at which the development of the personality and of knowledge can be oriented in accordance with specific choices and goals.

Adulthood is the age of successes and failures in the individual’s private and public or professional life. The part played by circumstance becomes much greater here. Where a defect in a person’s character may justifiably be invoked, even though earlier psycho-genesis may well be responsible for this, there is no link with any current stage in mental development. Senile deterioration of character and intelligence also has some connection with past psychogenesis: in an individual with exceptional psychogenetic development, this effect of old age may be in some measure alleviated. But such deterioration, while certainly the inverse of psychogenesis, does not regress via the same stages psychogenesis followed in its forward progression.

Genetic psychology is not one of many approaches to the facts of mental life. On the contrary, it has to call upon the greatest variety of other disciplines and methods. Nevertheless, it does have its own unity and independence. Depending on the level to which it is applied-zoological species, human cultures, or individual development-genetic psychology has occasion to refer to comparative anatomy and ecology, to anthropology, to linguistics, to the history of manners and beliefs, and to observations made of the child’s somatic and mental growth. Yet it is not a mere catch-all for disparate findings. What genetic psychology aims to produce is a synthesis of what is known about patterns of development both past and present. It is also an original analytic tool. Unlike ideological, experimental, or statistical analytic methods, genetic psychology has no interest in already constituted wholes, their component parts, and synchronic structures. Instead, it takes as a starting point the most simple form, the form which comes first, the earliest step in the chronological scale of transformations; and by tracing the succession of moments which follows, it endeavours to discover the functional import of the more differentiated or more complex forms that emerge later. Psychogenetic explanation endeavours to become an accurate history of development. What it seeks in its objects of study is their line of descent.