A Brief Biography of Jean Piaget
Text and images provided courtesy of the Archives Jean Piaget
Jean Piaget (1896-1980)Jean Piaget was born in Neuchâtel (Switzerland) on August 9, 1896. He died in Geneva on September 16, 1980. He was the oldest child of Arthur Piaget, professor of medieval literature at the University, and of Rebecca Jackson. At age 11, while he was a pupil at Neuchâtel Latin high school, he wrote a short notice on an albino sparrow. This short paper is generally considered as the start of a brilliant scientific career made of over sixty books and several hundred articles. His interest for mollusks was developed during his late adolescence to the point that he became a well-known malacologist by finishing school. He published many papers in the field that remained of interest for him all along his life.
After high school graduation, he studied natural sciences at the University of Neuchâtel where he obtained a Ph.D. During this period, he published two philosophical essays which he considered as "adolescence work" but were important for the general orientation of his thinking.
After a semester spent at the University of Zürich where he developed an interest for psychoanalysis, he left Switzerland for France. He spent one year working at the Ecole de la rue de la Grange-aux-Belles a boys' institution created by Alfred Binet and then directed by De Simon who had developed with Binet a test for the measurement of intelligence. There, he standardized Burt's test of intelligence and did his first experimental studies of the growing mind.
In 1921, he became director of studies at the J.-J. Rousseau Institute in Geneva at the request of Sir Ed. Claparède and P. Bovet.
In 1923, he and Valentine Châtenay were married. The couple had three children, Jacqueline, Lucienne and Laurent whose intellectual development from infancy to language was studied by Piaget.
Successively or simultaneously, Piaget occupied several chairs: psychology, sociology and history of science at Neuchâtel from 1925 to 1929; history of scientific thinking at Geneva from 1929 to 1939; the International Bureau of Education from 1929 to 1967; psychology and sociology at Lausanne from 1938 to 1951; sociology at Geneva from 1939 to 1952, then genetic and experimental psychology from 1940 to 1971. He was, reportedly, the only Swiss to be invited at the Sorbonne from 1952 to 1963. In 1955, he created and directed until his death the International Center for Genetic Epistemology.
His researches in developmental psychology and genetic epistemology had one unique goal: how does knowledge grow? His answer is 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 logical means into higher and more powerful ones up to adulthood. Therefore, children's logic and modes of thinking are initially entirely different from those of adults.
Piaget's oeuvre is known all over the world and is still an inspiration in fields like psychology, sociology, education, epistemology, economics and law as witnessed in the annual catalogues of the Jean Piaget Archives. He was awarded numerous prizes and honorary degrees all over the world.