Former Laureates

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget

1972

The Erasmus Prize 1972 was awarded to the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) in recognition of his pioneering work in research into the mental world of children and the origin and development of conceptual capability. Educated as a biologist, Piaget was Professor of Psychology at the University of Geneva from 1929 to 1975. He was deeply interested in the development of the language of thought. His research showed that children have their own particular way of thought. He made extensive observations of children between the ages of 7 and 15, concentrating largely on the interaction between children and their environment. Piaget discerned four phases in a child’s development: experience of the world by movement; development of motor skills, the start of logical thinking and the development of abstract argumentation. The theory is broadly dialectical: the next phase begins when the child experiences the achievement of the previous phase as a matter of course. Children enrich their understanding of things through actions, but at the same time by reflecting on the effect of their actions. Important for these theories were his ideas on the structure of thought and on the reasoned judgement of man. The question of how man arrives at knowledge – epistemology – is the object of study of the Centre international d’Epistémologie génétique in Geneva, founded by Piaget, which he directed until his death in 1980. Jean Piaget’s study of the development of knowledge has greatly influenced education, especially primary education: making understand instead of enforcing. It has also been influential in the treatment of bodily and mentally handicapped children.

Jean Piaget devoted half of the prize to his foundation, the Centre international d’Epistémologie génétique in Geneva. The money enabled a study concerning the process of abstraction and generalization in scientific thought.