Jean Piaget (1896–1980) is widely acknowledged as the most influential developmental psychologist. The extent of his influence on developmental psychology has been compared to the impact of Shakespeare on English literature or Aristotle on philosophy. His developmental theory remains unrivaled in terms of scope and depth. This entry briefly describes core ideas of Piaget’s theory and summarizes the major characteristics of his four developmental stages.

Core Ideas

Fundamentally, Piaget’s work was inspired by epistemological questions. Epistemology refers to the study of how we acquire knowledge and distinguish truth from falsehood. There are two classic answers to the question of how knowledge is acquired. First, empiricism suggests that knowledge is a copy of the world, acquired through the senses and by forming associations between current and previous sensory ...

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