50 years after my first practical experience in Piaget's area of work, I have now picked up his writing for the first time! What stunning material. Below are some thoughts on reading Piaget, which I think are relevant to our Hegel discussion list.


(i) Piaget's concept of the development of intuition (he refers to "concepts" sometimes, or sensori-motor intelligence) in the young child is a true Notion: learning is a unity of accommodation and assimilation. He says that this is true of learning by an organism, not just a human child, though it is most developed in the human organism.

(ii) Accommodation is the organism following the objective world in its actions, subordinating itself to it; assimilation is using the acquired properties of the objective world to extend it in the organism's own actions, i.e. to impose itself on to the world.

(iii) His description of the process of development of intuition in early childhood development (equally the learning of its environment by any organism) closely follows Hegel's description of Reflection. (see The Elaboration of the Universe, the final chapter in The Construction of Reality in the Child).

The similarity of Piaget's concept and his description of this stage of development is based on a relatively consistent materialist epistemology.

(iv) Piaget's consistent materialism, i.e. he completely accepts the priority of the objective world in relation to the organism,, and also accepts as a material fact that there exists consciousness. He follows Vygotsky with the concept of thought arising from the "internalisation" of practical action;

(v) In dealing with such an early stage of learning, Piaget deliberatively proves that the only a priori is the primitive animal schemata of the organism, reflexes to suck, grab, recoil from pain, etc., common to any organism. Because he is dealing with such an early stage of mental development, he is able to do away with any Kantian notion of a priori categories of thought;

(vi) Because Piaget devoted his life exclusively to this early stage of development, like any good specialist he (a) was driven to acquire knowledge of the whole range of theoretical knowledge to bring to bear upon his subject, but (b) tended to make the mistake of moving from metaphor or analogous relationships between concepts from his own area of specialism to that of others.

(vii) Thus, he tends to (a) confound concepts proper to the elaboration of the specialised sciences with intuitions primitive in relation to those sciences (e.g primal intuitions of space and time with concepts of geometry and mathematics) and (b) tends to subordinate the concepts of other sciences to those of his own.

(viii) Piaget's specialism means that he stops his strictly scientific investigation before school-age. This gives him a view of human development which is not truly human. For all organisms go through a kind of spontaneous development of the kind of the young human child, but only humans develop such a highly elaborated system of social education as to manifest true historical development which is able to give rise to the development of science, such as Piaget's own science. There are no chimpanzees among Piaget's colleagues, although there are doubtless many chimpanzees who would rival in intelligence the subjects of Piaget's observations.

(ix) In this respect, Vygotsky's work again presents itself with such significance, precisely because Vygotsky endeavoured to follow the whole scope of development from the earliest stages of childhood to completion of school-days, and Vygotsky sees one continuous mental development taking place there. Piaget speculates in relation to later development, notwithstanding the truly wonderful basis of empirical fact and critical analysis and synthesis he has built up in relation to early development.

(x) It appears to me that there are SEVEN forms of the development of concepts which offer the basis for comparison with Hegel's Logic (quite apart from the infinite variety of processes of development which are not processes of development of concepts at all - natural or social developments of objects other than concepts).

(a) the development of reflective processes in all organisms;

(b) the development of primitive intuitions in early childhood;

(c) the development of the capacity to elaborate the process of development of primitive intuitions early-on in the evolution of the human species;

(d) the history of the development positive practical knowledge and theory in relation to the various branches of industry and technology;

(e) the development of scientific knowledge and theory in relation to the various branches of science;

(f) the development in the history of philosophy of philosophical reflections (systems) which manifest in the most general form the concepts which find positive and practical expressions in the various branches of science and industry;

(g) the sequence of elaboration of concepts in the theoretical or "logical" elaboration of a science based upon the defining Notions which are the outcome of the history of science, i.e. the deductions which a science makes of its material on the basis of its axioms or principles.

(xi) There are many others related to the above (development of language, art, religion in all of the various time-scales, the various branches of science, the history of various countries, etc., taken separately, for example), but I think the seven mentioned will manifest all the essential phenomena and problems of significance from a philosophical point of view.

(xii) In drawing fundamental conclusions of an epistemological, logical or psychological character form Piaget's work (as opposed to being guided by his work exclusively in the nurturing of young children) it is important to understand the relation to concepts adequate and appropriate to this subject and those appropriate to others. It is equally of value to positively investigate good metaphors and analogies.

(xiii) To have an overview of where such symmetries lie is assisted by a familiarity with Hegel's Logic, and also, such study would greatly concretise our understanding of the Logic.

(xiv) Ilyenkov talks in his article on "Concrete historicism" and Marx in his Preface to the second German edition of "order of presentation". Both point out that the sequence of concepts in which a real history is explained is opposite to the sequence in which it actually occurs.

So, to begin with these two opposite sequences: they are:

(a) the development of Essence, from unconscious Being, through reflection in a series of stages each overcoming and sublating the other, constituted in opposite processes which are not fully merged in one another, and

(b) the development of the Notion, beginning from an abstract Notion which develops through different forms which prove to be identical with one another, becoming successively more concrete in the course of development. In Hegel's terms: the Objective Logic and the Subjective Logic.

(xv) This is the main or principal distinction. Further elaboration arises from the construction of species on organic matter, the construction of social relations on human labour, the construction of cultural and scientific superstructure on top of socially organised labour.

(xvi) Then in addition, there is the process of recapitulation of the universal in the individual, the dialectic of the Life Process, to use Hegel's terminology. For example, the young person acquires the knowledge of their age "from the top down" in Vygotsky's metaphor and "reconstructs in theoretical form" what they are already able to "do in practice", having learnt that "from the bottom up" so to speak; but one cannot learn to understand concretely what one cannot reproduce in life-activity, although it is certainly possible to acquire the relevant abstract concepts from which to elaborate that understanding.

(xvii) Care must be taken here. The Greeks and Egyptians people had fully developed basic intuitions (there would always have been certain limitations on how far such intuitions can develop, arising from the conditions of life, but the citizens of early civilisation were "fully human" in the same sense that we are today - only I think it's fair to say that we are none of us yet "fully human": that will only be possible to say when we have regained, consciously, the primal harmony with Nature we gave up when we became "civilised") but they did not have concepts of those intuitions.

(xviii) Pre-school children have spatial, temporal and causal intuitions, but they do not have concepts of space, time and cause. The former is clearly the pre-condition for the latter, but they are quite distinct. Likewise, the early civilisations had such intuitions - of course they did! - and I think there will be found very primitive concepts of space, time and cause, at least by the time written history begins. Only then does a history of development of science, industry, art and philosophy begin.

(xix) Much has been written on the conditioning of science by philosophy and vice-versa, of art and culture by industry, and vice-versa. Marx has it right in this respect. Only again to mention the power and the danger of metaphor and analogy.

(xx) Piaget refers to the work of others in relation to the second period of life (approx. 2 - 7 years):

"the child of a given age is less advanced on the verbal-conceptual plane than on the plane of action. In simpler terms, the child does not at first succeed in reflecting in words and concepts the procedures that he already knows how to carry out in acts, and if he cannot reflect them it is because, in order to adapt himself to the collective and conceptual plane on which his thought will henceforth move, he is obliged to repeat the work of coordination between assimilation and accommodation already accomplished in his sensorimotor adaptation anterior to the physical and practical universe.

" (1) ... the assimilation and accommodation of the individual from the time of the beginnings of speech present a balance less well developed in relation to the social group than in the realm of sensorimotor intelligence; and

"(2) that to make possible the adaptation of the mind to the group these functions must proceed again over the same steps, and in the same order, as during the first months of life. From the social point of view, accommodation is nothing other than imitation and the totality of the operations enabling the individual to subordinate himself to the precepts and the demands of the group. With regard to assimilation it consists as before in incorporating reality into the activity and perspectives of the self. Just as on the plane of adaptation to the sensorimotor universe the subject, while submitting to the constraints of the environment from the very beginning, starts by considering things as dependent on his actions and succeeds only little by little ..."

The entry of the child into a social world introduces into his/her universe, as objects of prime importance, other subjects (wills, consciousnesses). This presents the child with the challenge of understanding "other perspectives". Piaget then makes what calls a "daring comparison":

"the completion of the objective practical universe resembles Newton's achievements as compared to the egocentrism of Aristotlean physics, but the absolute Newtonian time and space themselves remain egocentric from the point of view of Einstein's relativity because they envisage only one perspective on the universe among many other ..."

So, according to Piaget, the process which his own work has traced in pre-lingual mental development, is mirrored in the next stage of mental development and in the history of science, and he here specifically speaks of transcending "egocentrism", or perceiving of the object independently of perception and awareness of self as one object among others. Piaget this proposes a logical category of "decentralism", repeated at one level after another in the course of consciousness confronting qualitatively new conceptual challenges in individual and historical development of understanding. It is a kind of "leap of consciousness" in which the subject discovers that it can "step outside itself" and look at itself and another, from the side, so to speak.

[I note in passing, that the purpose of the current exercise is not to prove that Hegel has it all or any such absurdity, but to learn from such concrete insights how to give concreteness to Hegel's concepts the better to learn how to extend such insights and make new ones, accommodate and assimilate them, in Piaget's language].

In Hegelian terms, this process is an aspect of the development from Being to Notion, for in the first instance the thing does not exist in theoretical terms at all, but is only present in Being, not yet even manifested to consciousness, and appears first as "one damn thing after another", syncretism, or seriality. When the new level of objectivity is achieved, this is a new Notion, a new thought-form entering in the theoretical conception of the world. This draws our attention of Piaget's six stages of the development, which may constitute his analysis of the Doctrine Essence, insofar as he identifies these six stages in a number of distinct aspects of early-childhood and asserts that the overall process is to be found at other levels as well.

Let us look at what these moments of "Essence"(?) are:

(1) (Pure Being) no special behaviour at all (no recognition?);

(2) Accommodation: Repetition of action in response to positive sensation associated with action;

(3) Extending action of accommodation beyond that imposed by external world and reflex;

(4) Active search, beginning of objectification, attempt to repeat/avoid object;

(5) Subject takes account of assimilated properties of world in search-activity;

(6) "Representation", acting in accordance with an image of the object as something independent and external.

These are summed up as the unity of accommodation and assimilation.

"In it's beginnings, assimilation is essentially the utilisation of the external environment by the subject to nourish its hereditary or acquired schemata ... the necessities of this accommodation constantly thwart the assimilatory effort. But this accommodation remains so undifferentiated from the assimilatory processes that it does not give rise to any special active behaviour pattern but merely consists in an adjustment of the pattern to the details of the things assimilated. ...

"... in proportion as the schemata are multiplied and differentiated by their reciprocal assimilations as well as their progressive accommodation to the diversities of reality, the accommodation is dissociated from assimilation little by little and at the same time ensures a gradual delimitation of the external environment and of the subject."

Each of these stages of development of the embryo of consciousness is a "self-sufficient world-view", a "universe". Piaget has also, of course, wrote whole books in relation to the correlation between development of conceptions of object, space, time, causality, number, logic and morality. I guess that reading is still ahead of me, and may provide further insights into the above schema, but I can't see see that such categories (of space, time, etc.,) taken separately could manifest anything as concrete as Actuality?

Could one draw parallels as follows?

(a) The first stage in Piaget's schema is just Pure Being in Hegel's Logic. There is no difference in the conceptions here really.

(b) The second stage in Piaget's schema, in which accommodation predominates, is the division of Quality with a material-active conception of this logical category. The subject manifests Quality in itself by following it in the object.

(c) The third stage, in which the subject extends the quality is the division of Quantity, inasmuchas teh subject contiunues the quality as if it were still itself, despite the object being not-equal to itself. I guess this is elementary assimilation.

(d) The Fourth stage is Measure, inasmuchas the subject here is responding precisely to the Quantity-Quality unity: "where has it gone?"

(e) This fourth stage, when assimilated is Pure Essence, "the truth of Measure". Certainly, in the fifth stage if the subject "takes account of" of properties of the object in its search, we have here the beginnings of Reflection.

(f) Existence: the object is represented, it "exists" to the subject. It is not yet a concept, and I think it would be quite untrue in talking of the development of pre-lingual children to talk about a Notion.

But in putting these last two stages together, we have Appearance, the world of phenomena, or sensori-motor phenomena, to be exact. Such appearances are the pre-conditions for any talk of Actuality. The child's life at this stage must be a "form & content" process.

In Actuality we must begin with the conceptions of possibility and substance, and I think we can say that the above process of embryonic perception has provided that material, but further development requires the interconnection of many different aspects. I don't know?

"The child begins by utilising only syncretic pseudo-concepts before elaborating true logical classes [is this a synonym for concept for Piaget?], because the operations of formative classes (logical addition and multiplication) require a system of definitions [?] whose stability and generality transcend the personal point of view and its subjective attachments (definitions by usage, syncretic classifications, etc.). From this stems the conclusion that a deductive structure in the plane of reflective thought presupposes a mind freed from the personal point of view by methods of reciprocity inherent in cooperation or intellectual exchange, and that reason, dominated by egocentrism on the verbal and social plane, can only be "transductive", that is, proceeding through the fusion of preconcepts located midway between particular cases and true generality".

(i) Vygotsky it seems to me has more about the evolution of "pre-concepts" and that was written 20 years before this Piaget? - "syncretic images", "family-groups", "property-chains", "abstract universals", :true concrete universals, ...

(ii) "Deduction based on reflective thought"... "freed from egocentrism" : wouldn't deduction also be the internalisation of actions? doesn't one internalise syllogisms, inductive inference, judgments etc.? I'm doubtful about this.

What Piaget calls "temporal displacement"!! i.e. recapitulating processes of development already undergone in one "plane" when confronted by challenges (more complexity, increased levels of abstraction, unfamiliar objects, ...) in a new domain. This is true. Abstracting from these leads to general laws.

Andy Blunden 10 Jan 98