Group Title: comparative analysis of the conceptions of development in Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg and their implications for educational theory and practice
Title: A comparative analysis of the conceptions of development in Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg and their implications for educational theory and practice
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Title: A comparative analysis of the conceptions of development in Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg and their implications for educational theory and practice
Physical Description: viii, 257 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Giarelli, James Michael, 1950-
Copyright Date: 1977
Subject: Child psychology   ( lcsh )
Foundations of Education thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Foundations of Education -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by James M. Giarelli.
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 249-256.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00098096
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000206826
oclc - 04044762
notis - AAX3620


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No work of this type can take shape without the

presence of a stimulating and supportive social environment.

I especially would like to thank my committee members, Dr.

Robert Sherman, chairman, Dr. Sam Andrews, and Dr. Robert

Curran. They have been teachers, colleagues, and, above all

friends, who have exerted a strong and positive influence on

my thinking and commitments. My thanks also to Dr. Jay Zeman

and Dr. Arthur Newman for serving on my committee. A special

thanks is due to my many graduate student friends, especially

those in the Graduate Student Union, for providing access to a

community beyond the academic and for making my graduate

education a process of living and not merely preparation for

future life. There are many other friends and teachers in the

Foundations of Education at the University of Florida and

across the country whose encouragement and instruction has

been invaluable. My appreciation to them all.

Finally, to my folks, you finally will get your doctor,

though not quite the kind you expected. And to Sally, who,

through no fault of her own, has no idea what I am doinq, but

gives me the things without which they would. never get done.




ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . .. . v

CHAPTER . . . . . .


Statement of the Problem . . . . .
Limitations of the Study . . . . . 5
Purpose of the Study . .. ..... 13
Review of Selected Literature . . . . 16
Method of the Study .. . ....... . 29
Organization of the Study . . . .... 30


Hegel's Conception of Development . . .. 33
Marx's Conception of Development . . . 39
Biological or Organic Development . . . I
Intellectual or Cognitive Development . . 49
Summary . . . . . . . . .... 56


Organization of th. Chapter . . . . . 61
Oiganic or Biological Development . . . 62
Cognitive or Intellectual Development . . 70
Comparison of Dewey and Piaget . ... . . 88


Introduction . . . . . . . 99

Kohlberg on Conceptions of Development
Kohlberg on Moral Development . . .
Comparison of Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg


Introduction . . . . . .
Development as Formation from Without
Development as Maturation or Unfolding
from W ith in . . . . . . .
Development ,s a Dialectical Interaction

. 1. 00
. . 111
S 126

. . 155

S* 155
. . 158

. . 118
. . 200





BIBLIOGRAPHY .. .. . ... .. . . ....... 249

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . . ...... .. . ... 257

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



James M. Giarel i

December 1977

Chairman: Dr. Robert R. Sherman
Major Department: Foundations of Education

Lawrence Kohlberg has capitalized on the interest gen-

erated by his work on moral development to promote a theo-

retical psychological position, cognitive-developmentalism,

and an approach to moral and general education. In support

of his ideas on these topics, Kohlberg cites John Dewey and

Jean Piaget as his philosophical and psychological ante-

cedents. Specifically, Kohlberg claims that there is a basic

congruence and continuity among himself, Dewey, and Piaget

regarding the conceptions of human development which underlie

their philosophical, psychological and educational work.

Kohlberg claims that this conception of development, which he

calls "dialectical" or -inteiactionist,' is distinguishable

from alternative conceptions of development and provides the

basis for progressive moral and general educational approaches.

Kohlberg's claims of a basic congruence and continuity among

himself, Dewey, and Piaget regarding their conceptions of

development provides the focus for this study's analysis.

Specifically, this study addresses three related questions:

(1) Do Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg employ a common conception

of development? (2) What are the central characteristics

distinguishing this conception of development from others?

(3) What are the educational implications of this conception

of development? Additionally, this study is limited to com-

paring the stage-independent aspects of developmental theories.

That is, the comparison is concerned not with the particular

content or characteristics of proposed stages of development,

but rather with the more general conception of the process or

mechanism of developmental change and the conditions that pro-

mote it.

The emergence of Dewey's conception of development is

traced briefly through Hegel and Marx to provide a historical

context. Dewey's accounts of living, thinking, and inquiry

provide theI basis for an ana Ilys is of his conceptions of or-

ganic or biological and cognitive or intellectual development.

Piaget's work on intelligence and the relationship between

biology and knowledge is used to provide a basis for an analysis

of his conceptions of biological and cognitive development.

Kohlberg's own comparison of alternative conceptions of develop-

ment and his work on moral development is used to provide a

basis for analyzing his conception of development.

A comparison of the three views concludes that there is

a significant degree of congruence among Dewey's, Piaget's,

and Kohlberg's conceptions of development. Specifically,

each is analyzed and compared in terms of four main definers

or characteristics, namely, interaction, adaptation/adjustment,

equilibrium, and disequilibrium. These four definers play

significant and similar roles in all three conceptions of

development. As such, they serve to establish a basic con-

gruence among Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's conceptions

of development and to distinguish these views from alterna-

tive conceptions of development.

Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg all analyze and compare

competing psychological and educational approaches in terms

of their assumed conceptions of development. Dewey's, Piaget's,

and Kohlberg's classifications and criticisms are used as a

basis for analyzing historical and contemporary educational

theories and practices in reference to their assumed concep-

tions of development. Three broad streams of thought are

distinguished, "development as formation from wi tlout,"

"development as maturation or unfolding from within," and

"development as a dialectical interaction," and the education-

al bearings of these views are criticized and compared. Again,

it is found that there is a significant degree of congruence

and continuity among Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg regarding

their views on educational theories and practices.

In summary, the present study concludes that, although

important differences in style and substance certainly exist,

there is a basic congruence ,and continuity among the works or


Dewey. Piaget, and Kohlberg, especially rewarding thii r con-

cepLions of human development. The usefulness of using con-

czptions of development as a basis for comparing Cno contrast-

inn psychological and educational approaches also is supported.

v iii



Statement of the Problem

The activity of educating has a necessary moral component

which transcends the specifics of any particular educational

theory. This is one of the few things on which writers on

education agree. Whether we think of education as primarily

conservative, creative, or critical, there always is an appeal

to some notion of what is good, valuable, worthwhile, or ob-

ligatory. Though this normative component permeates the entire

educative process, we make explicit attempts at direct and

systematic teaching of moral concepts, principles, rules, atti-

tudes, and behaviors, a process called moral education. While

moral education historically has been of interest to educators,

attention to it declined not iceably after W rorld War I I. How-

ever, with the research and wri ting of Lawrence Kohlberg and his

associates in the mid-1960's through the present, moral educa-

tion again has attracted wide interest.

Kohlberg's primary contribution to research on moral educa-

tion has been in describing and testing a psychological theory

of moral development. From years of cross-cultural and lorngi-

tudinal research into the kinds of reasons children give in

responding to moral dilemmas, Kohlberg constructed a six-stage,

hierarchical, and culturally invariant topological scheme

for classifying levels of moral thought. This research is

well-documented (Kohlberg, 1963, 1969, 1970a, 1971c).

In further support of his theory of moral development,

Kohlberg consistently cites two major figures in educational

psychology and theory, John Dewey and Jean Piaget, as his in-

tellectual predecessors. Two typical examples make this clear:

The cognitive-developmental approach to
moral education was fully stated for the
first time by John Dewey. . Dewey's
thinking about moral stages was theoreti-
cal. Building upon his [own] prior studies
of cognitive stages, Jean Piaget made the
first effort to define stages of moral
reasoning in children (in games with rules).
S. In 1955 I started to redefine and
validate (through longitudinal and cross-
cultural study) the Dewey-Piaget levels
and stages. (Kohlberg, 1975, p. 670)

I have used the teim ''cognitive-develop-
mental" to refer to a set of assumptions
common to the moral theories of Dewey
(1909), G. H. Head (1934), J. 1i. Baldwin
(1906), Piaqet (1932), ond mysel .
(Kohl berg 97 a p. 42)

Kohlberg goes further in identifying the common assump-

tions he believes exist among himself, Piaget, and Dewey:

All have postulated (a) stages of moral
development representing (b) cognitive-
structural transformations in concep-
tion of self and society. All have
assumed (c) that these stages represent
successive modes of takingg the role of
others" in social situations, and hence
that (d) the social-environmental Jeter-
minants of development are its opportunities
for role-taking. More generally, all have
assumed (e) an active child who structures
his perceived environment, and hence, have
assumed (f) that moral stages and their
development represent the interaction of
the chi ld 's structure i ng tendencies and the

structural features of the environment,
leading to (g) successive forms of
equilibrium in interaction. This
equilibrium is conceived as (h) a level
of justice, with (i) change being caused
by disequilibrium, where (j) some optimal
level of match or discrepancy is neces-
sary for change between the child and the
environment. (Kohlberg, 1971c, pp. 183-4)

Kohlberg, however, has gone far beyond purely psychological

research on moral development. He and his colleagues at the

Harvard Center for Moral Education have consistently sought

applications of their work in prisons, counseling programs,

orphanages and foster homes, and, most importantly for purposes

of this study, in educational settings. Kohlberg has not only

extended his findings on the psychology of moral development

into an approach to moral education (Kohlberg, 1970a, 1970b),

but he also has developed a more comprehensive theory of edu-

cation based upon cognitive-Jevelopmlenrtal psychology (Kohlberg,

1966, 1968; Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972). For Kohlberg, there is

no dichotomy between moral and general cognitive development.

He writes that "the progressive educator stresses the essential

links between cognitive and moral development; he assumes that

moral development is not purely affective, and that cognitive

development is a necessary though not sufficient condition for

moral development" (Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972, p. 45).

In support of his theory of cognitive development and his

more general educational views, Kohlberg also cites John Dewey

and Jean Piaget as his intellectual antecedents as he had done

previously for his moral development theory.

The [cognitive-developmental] theory is
not really new. It was first elaborated
by John Dewey at the turn of the century;
but it has been developed in much greater
depth and precision in recent years by
Piaget and his followers. (Kohlberg,
1971a, p. 352)

In his most detailed and comprehensive outline of a

theory of education, Kohlberg, together with Rochelle Mayer

(1972), considers not only psychological theories of develop-

ment or moral development, but also more general "educational

ideologies" which he defines as sets of concepts defining de-

sirable aims, content, and methods of education for their

psychological, epistemological, and ethical assumptions (p. 450).

His analysis is used to examine how educational ideologies can

be used to generate and justify alternative educational ob-

jectives, outcomes, and policies. He concludes that his own

educational ideology,

the development I-phi losophical strategy
for defining educational objectives, which
emerges from the wo ik (o Dewey and Piaget,
is a theoretical l rationale which itLh-
stands logical cri i cismi and is consistent
with if not "l' rol ved" by, current research
findings. (p. 450)

His own position "essentially recapitulates the progressive

position first formulated by John Dewey. This position has

been clarified psychology call by the work of P iiJlet and his

fol lo wers" (p. 492)

Though Kohlberg's particular interest is in moral develop-

ment, it is clear he wants to claim that a central element

that binds his views on moral development, cognitive develop-

ment, and education with Dewey and Piaget is a common conception


of human development. After rejecting what he calls the

"romantic" educational ideology which is based on a matura-

tionist theory of development, and the "cultural transmission"

educational ideology which is based on an associationist-

learning or environmental-contingency theory of development,

Kohlberg identifies himself with a third position. He writes

that "underlying the progressive ideology is a cognitive-

developmental or interactionist theory of development"

(Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972, p. 455). This interactionist theory

is described metaphorically as being "dialectical; it is a

model of the progression of ideas in discourse and conversation.

The dialectical metaphor was first elaborated by Plato, given

new meaning by Hegel, and finally stripped of its metaphysical

claims by John Dewey and Jean Piaget, to form a psychological

method' (p. 456).

Kohlberg's claims pose three related problems and ques-

i. -. I )Do Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg employ a common

dialucLical conception of development; (2) What are the central

characteristics of a dialectical conception of development; and

(3) What are the implications of a dialectical conception of

development for education?

I i t i ( I

Thle purpose of lhi s t Lu y I t ii0 ,sci st thli aL Lil acy ),

Kohlberg's claims by comparing Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's

conceptions of development. The focus will be on the central

elements that Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's conceptions of

development have in common, that distinguish them the most

from other conceptions, and that have the greatest educational

importance. This focus suggests a number of limitations which

must be noted.

One is that this study does not purport to be an ex-

haustive comparison of Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's views

on psychology or education. Nor does it suggest that there

are no differences among their respective views. There are

differences, of course, both in substance and in emphasis which

lead to concentration on different topics and concerns. Dewey's

work is primarily philosophical and his writings on stages and

processes of development, though grounded in observation and

the psychological work of his time, were theoretical and not

experimentally validated in any complete way. Piaget primarily

has been concerned with elaborate inq a theory of intelligence

and co fni ion and, un I ike Dewey and kohlberg has not sought,

with some important exceptions, to extend his findings to edu-

cation. Kohlberg, though aware and attentive to the philo-

sophical aspects of his work, is mainly an experimental social

psychologist primarily working on moral development. These

basic differences in approach and dominant concerns make a

simple identity comparison impossible.

There are also more substantive differences. Dewey's

emphasis on the social aspects of development, experience,

and education was matched by no one, and although Piaget and

Kohlberg both give considerable emphasis to sociability and


the essential role of social interaction and communication

in development, the social is not the inclusive category

in their psychologies as it is in Dewey's philosophy. Kincaid

(1977) criticizes Kohlberg for neglecting the social context

of morality (p. 96) and feels that this constitutes a main

difference between Kohlberg and Dewey. As the analysis of

Kohlberg's views in the present study will suggest, however,

for Kohlberg morality is inseparable from man's social life and

opportunities for social interaction, communication, and role-

taking are the primary determinants of moral development.

Also, it is not clear whether Dewey used the term "stage"

in the same manner as Piaget and Kohlberg. This is not to say

that Dewey did not discuss stages or levels of psychological

development or growth. This idea can be traced from Dewey's

early work in the late 1800's to some of his most important

later works (Dewey, 1895, 1900, 1902, 1909, 1910, 1933, 1938,

1944), and includes a preliminary attempt to describe the

characteristics children exhibit in the various stages (1915).

The idea of "stage," however, has acquired a specialized,

technical meaning in modern psychology, and although Dewey's

usage may well be consistent with, or at least a forerunner of,

this meaning, "stage" was not as central to Dewey's psychology

o f* J -j I o p rit it it i I 11 I qc t 'r Kcih I t i j I .

Conversely, Dewey's specialized ideas of "habit" and

"experience" raise further points of contrast. Kohlberg has

been criticized for neglecting the role of habit in moral de-

velopment (Craig, 1975, pp. 127-8; Sichel, 1976, pp. 338-9),


and this is cited both as a failure in his theory and a

divergence from Dewey. This is an important criticism, but

it needs to be remembered that Dewey's definition and use of

"habit" was unique and "twisted somewhat from its customary

use" (Dewey, 1922/ 1957, p. 39). Kohlberg does not adopt

Dewey's uncustomary meaning which gives habit a dynamic qual ity

and thus depreciates the role of habit in his moral psychology.

However, it has been suggested (Lickona, 1976, p. 11), and the

analysis of Kohlberg's views in the present study will show,

that Kohlberg's stages function like generalized habits of mind

or thought. Similarly, when Piaget discusses "experience" as a

necessary but not sufficient factor in development, he uses

"experience" in the traditional, empirical sense as physicalistic

or sensationalistic "inputs" from the environment. There is no

reason to believe that Piaget himself holds this view of ex-

perience. Rather, he adopts this meaning of "experience" to

suggest its inadequacy, especially as a sufficient explanation

for development. Dewey, of couLrse, also rejected the sensation-

alistic view of experience and devoted a great deal of effort

to clarifying a view of experience as interactional and re-


Piaget and Kohlberg also stress the invariant order of the

developmental sequence. Despite Dewey's clai m that the psychical

functions mature in a certain order (Dewey & McLel lan, 1895,

p. 15), there is some doubt as to whether Dewey's contextualism

is compatible with an invariant developmental sequence. While

this is a possible point of contrast, the invariant nature of


Piaget's and Kohlberg's stage theories should not be compared,

as Kincaid does, to the maturational or unfolding views of

development found in Froebel and Hegel (Kincaid, 1977, p. 33).

A cursory reading of either Piaget or Kohlberg will show their

rejection of such a conception of development. For Piaget and

Kohlberg the developmental sequence is invariant not because of

a biologically wired-in order or some universal idea found un-

folding in the consciousness of the race or culture.

Kohlberg's and Piaget's notion of invariant developmental

stages rests upon a critical theoretical distinction between

the structure and content of thought. Content refers to what a

person believes, which is obviously dependent upon culturally

variable experiences, while structure refers to how a person

thinks about the content of his beliefs. It is the structure

of thought, not the content, which is thought to develop in an

invariant order. Thus, one could be an extreme cultural rela-

tivis t and still hold 1It a t, apart from the cultural ly dependent

content of thought or experience, the psychology of thinking is the

same for all humans and develops in the same way. In other

words, when Dewey wrote How We Think (1910), it seems unlikely

that his use of "We" was meant to refer only to a particular

cultural group. Rather, Dewey was making a clai,, about the

psychology of human thought that was universal despite the

obvious differences in the culturally variable content of thought.

Moreover, the sequence, for example, in moral development,

represents and depends upon an analysis of the logic of moral

concepts. The sequence of stages is logically defined so that


each new stage contains new conceptual differentiations, that,

although more complex and precise, depend upon the logical

differentiations made in the prior stage. Thus, invariance is

primarily a logical and conceptual issue, although Kohlberg

claims that his cross-cultural studies empirically support the

hierarchical sequence found in the logical and conceptual

analysis of moral concepts. Thus, the modern idea of an in-

variant sequence is a complex issue and raises questions con-

cerning the empirical status of logically defined stages and

the possibility and desirability of distinguishing between the

structure and content of thought. These issues, though outside

the scope of the present study, have been discussed (Lickona,

1976, pp. 9-14) in terms of their implications for a psychology

of human development.

In short, there are many possible points of contrast amonr

Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg. Some are due to historical pro-

gression in psychology, some to different emphases and concerns,

some to better research data, and some to substantive disagree-

ment. Despite these differences, however, it still is impor-

tant and useful to know the points of essential agreement or

congruence. Knowing the similarities that exist in their basic

assumptions and analyses of development will help to distinguish

their views from competing conceptions of development and pro-

vide a basis on which to understand their educational views.

An example from philosophy will illustrate this point.

There are a number of books on pragmatism as a philosophy and

on pragmatic philosophers (e.g., Morris, 1970; Thayer, 1973;

Eames, 1977). Primary sources typically referred to are

Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead, and often include C. I. Lewis

and F. C. S. Schiller. At some point in these accounts it be-

comes necessary to mention the significant differences in sub-

stance and emphasis that exist among these philosophers. Thus,

we can distinguish among Peirce's "objective idealism" and

emphasis on logic, James' radical empiricism and individualism,

Dewey's instrumentalism, and Mead's behavioral social psychology

of mind. Despite these differences, however, it is still con-

sidered important and useful to classify these philosophers as

members of a "school of thought," pragmatism, and as working in

the same tradition because of the common assumptions that provide

the basis for their philosophizing In other words, despite the

significant differences between Dewey's and Mead's social be-

hlav i sm and JaIes i ndividu istic psycho ogy we st i ll i rid

enough basic points of agreement, especially when compared to

alternative schools of psychology, to call them all pragmatists.

The situation is l ightly dil ferent in regard to Dewey,

Piaget, and Kohlberg. Since Kohlberg began claiming basic agree-

ment with Dewey and Piaget, there has begun some effort to detect

points of divergence. However, besides Kohlberg's own work,

Settle has been done to show points of basic congruence.

Kohlherg has not claimed his ideas are identical with Dewey's

and Pia get s. Rather, he has; claimed that lie is working in

their tradition with the same basic assumptions, especially re-

garding their conceptions of development. To put it simply,

just as in the example of pragmatism, it is necessary and help cul


to know both the similarities and differences that exist among

the views of important thinkers. Because the small amount of

work to date concerning Dewey, Pi;iget, and Kohlberg has con-

centrated on highlighting the differences, the present study

will be limited to an analysis of their basic similarities,

particularly in regard to their conceptions of development.

To establish basic congruence is not to establish identity.

Furthermore, as mentioned, the present study will be

limited to an examination of those aspects of a conception of

development that are of significant educational importance.

Theories or conceptions of development are complex affairs com-

posed of a number of related components. For example, Kohlberg

Sits ten separate components of the theory of moral develop-

ment he believes he has in common with Dewey and Piaget (supra,

pp. 2-3). William Kessen writes that any psychological theory

that purports to give an account of the devel opment of huran

knowledge must consider (I) the goals of the developmental se-

quence, (2) cognitive functions, (3) rules (principles, schemata,

stages) and (4) condi tions for rule change (Kessen, 1966,

pp. 63-7). Limi tat ions of time and space make it imposs i ble

to analyze and compare the entire theories of development of

Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg in one study. Each of these theories

contain a number of problematic concepts and ideas. For example,

there are over twenty articles alone on Piaget's concept of

"stage," which is only a small part of his theory of development.

Instead, this study will focus on the elements of each conception

of development which have the most significance for educators


and which distinguish Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's

conceptions most sharply from others. The focus will be on

Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's conceptions of the process or

mechanism of development, how development actually "works," or

how transitions are made from one level, point, or stage in the

developmental process to another. Piaget himself recognizes the

central importance of understanding and explaining the mechanism

of the developmental process when he writes that "the question

which seems to be the most important of the general prob-

lems [is]: the mechanism of the transition from one stage to

another, the mechanism of continuous transformation" (Piaget,

1960, p. 26).

Another way of expressing this is by distinguishing between

stage-dependent and stage-independent aspects of developmental

theories. Stage-dependent factors are those that refer to the

actual content or characteristics of the various stages of de-

velopment postulated. The stage-independent aspects are those

that refer to the more general forri or mechanism of the develop-

mental process itself. This study will focus on the stage-

independent aspects of Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's con-

ceptions of development and how they explain the process of

development and the conditions that support developmental change.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study, to repeat, is to assess the

accuracy of Kohlberg's claims of a basic congruence and con-

tinuity among his own, Piaget's, and Dewey's views of develop-

ment by comparing Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's conceptions


of development. This comparison is educationally significant

in a number of ways.

The problem of "development' has a central importance in

psychological and educational theory. Since Rousseau's "discovery"

of the child, the study of education has been dominated by the

concepts and categories of psychology. Fueled by the Freudian

movement, the progressives' emphasis on the "whole child," and

John Watson's environmentalist claims, this trend has continued

to the present day. in Robert Mason's Contemporary Educational

Theory, for example, the three most recent movements in educa-

tion, Neo-behaviorism, Humanistic, and Structure of the Dis-

ciplines, are all derived primarily from psychological theories

of development, learning, and personality.

At a more general level, psychologically-based theories

of education all proceed from conceptions of human development.

Education is always to some degree an explicit and intentional

activity for changing people. Whether conceived oi as externally

modifying something inert, recalcitrant, or evil, or as fostering

some intrinsic tendency, urge, or goodness, education assumes

soiei model of man and howa i n ant come to be adul ts apart from

the aid or intervention of formal schooling. This is what is

meant by a conception of human development. If educational

theories are primarily derived from conceptions of human develop-

ment, our analysis, criticism, and construction of educational

theories will be improved if we understand the models of de-

velopment Ihat act as our premi ses. Comparing Dewey's, Piaget's,

and Kohlberg's conceptions of human development, then, will not


only test Kohlberg's claims of a continuous tradition, but also

will provide a better understanding of the foundations of their

views of education.

As noted, the focus of this study will be on the processes

of developmental change and the conditions that support it.

These aspects of developmental theories are of primary educa-

tional importance because educational activity always is con-

cerned with promoting human modification, change, or growth

toward desirable ends. Just as different conceptions of human

development provide the premises for the construction of educa-

tional theories, different conceptions of how the developmental

process actually works, what the mechanisms are that guide

development, and what conditions best enhance and support these

processes call for different educational practices and strat-

egies. For example, a radically different set of educational

activities would follow if we believed human development was

marked by the accretion of small, incremental behavioral changes

maintained by reinforcement, as opposed to developmental change

being characterized by large-scale, qualitative changes in how

we attribute meaning to the structure of the world maintained

by human and environmental interaction. Clarification of one

important explanation of how and under what conditions develop-

ment is promoted will aid us in arranging educational environ-

ment and situations to promote maximum development.

More specifically, after describing the conceptions of

development and mechanisms of developmental change that Dewey,

Piaqet, and Kohlberg employ, their particular practical


recommendations for education will be compared. This will in-

volve describing and analyzing three broad streams of educa-

tional thought in reference to their underlying conceptions of

development. Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's common analyses

and criticisms of alternative conceptions of development and

education will be used to explicate a basic congruity among

their own educational views.

This study will argue that Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg

all explain the mechanism of development in terms of a

dialectical process and that this emphasis on dialectical trans-

itions is the primary characteristic distinguishing this con-

ception of development from others. Specifically, the present

study will focus on a number of core elements or definers cen-

tral to all three accounts of development, namely, interaction,

adaptation or adjustment, equilibrium or equilibration, and

disequilibrium or conflict. The origins of this dialectical

conception of development will be traced and it will be used as

a model for comparing the views of Dewey, Piaqet, and Koh berg.

Review of Selected Literature

Literature on General Iiilpor tance of the Idea of Development

The idea of a developp cntal process" is a relatively new

one. Though one can speak of the developmental theories of

Plato, Aristotle, and Rousseau, only since Carwin presented a

model of the universe as a field of process, open to new and

future species and qualities, has this idea gained prominence

among philosophers and scientists. To be sure, Rousseau made

a major contribution in understanding childhood when he wrote

in Emile that each period of life has its proper perfection and

emphasized that education is the internal development of our

faculties and organs, but he showed little insight into the

mechanisms of developmental change. Nevertheless, in the last

hundred years the idea of development has been recognized as a

fundamental explanatory metaphor in a variety of disciplines.

In the study of history, Geoffrey Barraclough (1956) ties

the rise of the "cult of historicism" to the adoption of the

assumption "that the nature of anything is entirely comprehended

in its development" (p. ) In his view, historicism offered

a view of reality as continuous and values as relative by

"substituting the concepts of development and individuality for

belief in the stability of human nature and in reason" (p. 2).

A more important cu.llont'equence of the adoption of a ''process"

view of developmental change in history can be seen in the work

of Thomas Kuhn, the Ilistorian o l science. Tradi tional history

of science assumed a development by accretion view.

Scientific development becomes the piece-
meal process by which these items [facts,
theories, methods] have been added singly,
and in combination, to the ever growing
stockpile that constitutes scientific
technique and knowledge. And history 'f
science becor:es the di scipl ine that chron-
icles both these successive increments and
the obstacles that have inhibited their
accumulation. (Kuhn, 1962, pp. 1-2)

In Kuhn's view of the history of scientific development,

the historian's purpose is not merely to chronicle the contri-

butions of an older science to the present, but to "display the


historical integrity of that science in its own time" (p. 3).

Kuhn sees the history of science as a succession of stages or

paradigms of "normal" science, broken occasionally by revolu-

tions which transform the world of science. As normal scientific

activity continues within a paradigm, model, or set of assump-

tions about how the world works, occasionally anomalies appear,

equipment fails to produce anticipated results, or evidence

emerges that cannot be interpreted in the traditional cate-

gories. Disorganization and disequilibrium in the scientific

community take hold and normal research goes astray until a ner.u

paradigm, set of commi tments, or view of natural reality emerge

to provide a new basis for the scientific community. This pro-

cess of equilibrium--anomaly--disequilibrium--conflict within

scientific community--paradigm search--new equilibrium is con-

tinuous, qual i active i a wel I as qa a nt itativ e an d Ji reacted to-

ward more elaborated, further articulated, and specialized forms

of scientific activity.

Kuhn compares his theory of scientific development to

Darwin's theory of evolutionary human development. It is worth

noting the simi lari ties between Kuhn's view of development and

developmental change and the characteristics cited by Kohlberg

as basic to a cognitive-developmental or dialectical position

(Kohlberg, 1971c, pp. 183-4; Kohlberg & Hlayer, 1972, pp. 456-9).

The similarities between Kuhn's view of how science develops

and Piaget's view of how children develop understanding of

scientific concepts also has been noted (Mischel, 1971, pp.

326, 333).

In biology, Ludwig von Bertalanffy's Modern Theories of

Development (1933) placed the concept of development at the

core of his systems theory which he claims provides the con-

ceptual foundations for twentieth-century physics, biology,

psychology, social philosophy, and other fields. Von

Bertalanffy's view, like Kuhn's and that ascribed to the

cognitive-developmentalists by Kohlberg, assumes that dynamic

interaction is the basic principle in all fields. Life is

relational and the key to understanding it is seeing organiza-

tion, hierarchical connections of lower and upper level

structures, and process (Marion, 1971, pp. 19-20). Von

Bertalanffy (1952) explains the process of natural and organic

development in much the same terms that Kuhn uses to explain the

process of scientific development. He writes,

These principles have been stated as
So ows: First, ni ure is not an
aggq regate or separate uni ts but ra their
an organic whole, coherent, and i n t r-
acting. Secondly, nature is not in a
state of rest and immobile i ty but one of
incessant movement and evolution.
Thirdly, in the process of evolution,
Jumps appear, governed by laws of nature,
at the points of transition from one
level of organization to a higher one,
quantitative changes transmuting into
qualitative differences. Fourth, inner
contradictions are dialcctica I y iii-
manent to natural phenomena, so that
the processes of evolution take place
in the form of a struggle of anti-
thetical tendencies. (p. 198)

In organismic terms, this model of development assumes a

tendency toward home bLaL ic Ce uili bria, which is a steady s 1 e

existing in dynamic pseudo-equili brium and thus always inter-

acting and developing.

Living organisms store potential energy
and are able to use it to dispense with
"tensions" or "needs" in spontaneous
activity or in response to stimuli.
This provides the force for actively
adapting situations so that life pro-
cesses are forwarded; so that energy
is organized rather than dissipated.
Life processes are synergistic rather
than entropic. Synergy indicates a
harmony or coming together in situa-
tions where there is an increase of
power or action. The maintenance and
building of tensions or synergistic
systems is at the heart of transactional
living. (Marion, 1971, pp. 42-3)

The purpose of reviewing von Bertalanffy's work is to

begin to show the comparisons that can be made between theorists

from different disciplines in terms of their conceptions of

development. Von Bertalanffy, like Kuhn, and like Kohlberg's

description of cognitive-developmental ism, stresses an inter-

active process, vacillating between periods ot relative equi-

librium and disequili br ium resulting from adaptation to s t imul i

and situations that demand reconstruction or reorganization.

Developmental change is qualitative and continuous. It is an

organic response stimulated by "tensions" or "needs," directed

toward the removal of contradictions and syntheses of more

organized forms.

The similarities between von Bertalanffy's and Dewey's

views of development have been compared favorably in D. Marion

(1971), A Comparison of the Conceptions of Hjman Development in

Ludwig von Bertalanffy and John Dewey. Marion notes the simi-

larities between von Bertalanffy's notion of transactional living

and the transactional psycho logy espoused by Dewey as early as


1896 in "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology' (Dewey, 1896),

and given full treatment in Dewey and Bentley's Knowing and the

Known (1949).

Piaget also has been compared favorably to von Bertalanffy

in terms of similar conceptions of human development (Tanner &

Inhelder, 1960, p. 95, 122) and he has incorporated some of von

Bertalanffy's ideas into his work.

Psychological and Educational Literature on Development

The importance of "development" for psychologists and

educators has been noted already. Educators and psychologists

of different theoretical persuasions, however, have employed

different conceptions of development, how it works, and how it

can be affected, if at all. As Dewey said, "When it is said that

education is development, everything depends upon how develop-

ment is conceived" (Deuey, 1916/1966, p. 49).

There have been a number of attempts to categorize and

classify conceptions of development. K. Riegel (1973), for

examp le, has suggested two views of development that have

dominated modern thought. He describes them in pol itical-

econormic terms as the "capital istic" and "mercanti istic"

conceptions of development. Riegel traces the origins of the

capitalistic version to the entrepreneurial systems of England

and ltie United States. Develop pment in this view is seen as

the outcome of ceaseless competition by
which bits and pieces of skills and
habits are acquired. . Development
originated from a fight of everyone
against everyone. . ; growth was re-
garded as the channeling (socialization)

of competitive forces into socially
acceptable arrangements ; the
driving principle was the "psychology
of more" . with little or no con-
sideration for structural organization.
(P. 4)

The mercantilist view is traced to Europe where competi-

tion was checked by central administrative and economic control.

Development in this view is

a stepwise progression through quali-
tative stages consisting of spontaneous
reorganizations of the individual's in-
tellect. . The young child was seen
as basically good. . Competition was
conceivable within but not between stages.
S. Education emphasized a stage-
appropriate approach. (p. 4)

Riegel's historical perspective provides an important in-

sight, but his political-economic categories are not helpful

in comparing and contrasting psychological conceptions of de-

velopment for their educational implications. Nor are they

helpful in analyzing the process of individual developmental

chaniiyu and the condi tions that pIromo te it.

J. McVicker Hunt (1961) separates conceptions of develop-

ment into three categories, predetermined, preformationist,

and interactionist, based on their basic biological and psycho-

logical assumptions. The earliest conception, preformationist,

assumed that development is a process of uncovering or reveal-

ing something already existing. It was thought, for example,

that butterflies were already existent, though in 'hiding,'

in caterpillars. Hunt writes that the development of the micro-

scope actually appeared to strengthen the preformationist case

because of biologist's reports ol seeing tiny horses in horse


semen, and other tiny "animacules" in the semen of other

animals. Embryological and biological experiments eventually

proved these reports wrong, of course, and the preformationist

view of development with them.

In its place arose the predetermined view of development

which assumes development to be either the unfolding of some

inherent spiritual destiny or the maturation of an inherited

chemical-genetic behavioral and personality pattern. Hunt takes

this predetermined view to be important in understanding much

of modern psychology, especially regarding psychological research

on intelligence. He believes this conception relies too heavily

on maturation as the explanation for developmental change and

consequently ignores the effect of experience.

Hunt writes that historically the notion of predetermined

development took the place of the notion of preformationism, and

now it must give way to a third conception of development which

may be term ied i n te rac t i oni s in" (H unt, 1 961 p. 63). This third

conception assumes that development is explained best in terms

of continuous organism c-environmrental interactions. This

leaves open the possibility of affecting development through

a p experience, rather than assuming it to be predetermiined or purely

the result of biological maturation.

McVicker Hunt's categories are of historical interest and

can serve to make gross distinctions among conceptions of de-

velopment, but they do not provide a means of comparing most

modern conceptions which assume interaction.


J. Langer (1969) has suggested a classification scheme

for conceptions of human development that is more clearly

related to recognized psychological approaches. He groups

theories of development into three categories which he calls

the "mechanical mirror," the "organic lamp," and the

"psychoanalytic." He writes,

A core concept of all three theories is
interaction: all maintain that psycho-
logical phenomena and their change are
the result of interaction between the
organism and the environment. The dif-
ference between theories lies in which
action is emphasized in the interaction.
(p. 163)

The mechanical mirror theory emphasizes the action of the

environment. It assumes that man grows to be what he is made

to be by his environment (p. 4). Thus, the emphasis is placed

upon detecting by careful observation any behavioral changes

Imad c i I retsponseo to cinvi Irolln n t111 Ca1 ll i i( I I i in and c l relat iin

env i onmental s timuli aii ia d v iabl esa with behav ioral change. 1 he

ma in focus of inquiry is for the initial antecedent condit ions

that precede behavioral clhani e and the secondary condi t ions

which reinforce and shape responses once they have occurred

(p. 5). Development in this view is quantitative, increase in

behavioral content maintained over time. Development is learn-

ing additional behaviors.

The psychoanalytic theory emphasizes either the action of

the orgi anism or of the nvir on iment depending upon what part of

the personality structure is being considered (p. 163). The

psychoanalytic theory assumes that development is an irrational


and affective process resulting from response to the conflict

of being driven by both biological instincts and environmental

stimuli (Langer, 1969, p. 101). Development is produced by a

dynamic operating to resolve the demands of external, physical,

and social pressures and biological or instinctual energies.

These developmental theories are embryologicall;" the pro-

gression to a new stage is influenced primarily by age or

biological maturity rather than experience. Development is

affected both by the maturational code which controls the amount

of energy invested in certain body regions and environmental

pressures which raise basic universal dilemmas.

Organic lamp theory puts the emphasis on the organism's

activity as the primary sauce of interaction. The organic lamp

theories rest on the iautogenetic thesis that man develops to be

what he makes himself by his own actions (p. 7). Humans have

sel f-moving power which can be used to create growth, thus

development is interactive. Organic lamp theory focuses upon

the equal itative discontinuity that marks developmenCt. Thus,

though accepting that many, if not most, changes are quantita-

tive, certain changes are radical enough to signal a basic

reconstruction of psychological structures used for understand-

ing and explaining the world. These places of fundamental

change or discontinuity mark stages of development having

identifiable characteristics and gaps in relation to other

stages. The central question then emerges as how transitions

from stage to stage take place (Langer, 1969, p. 161). Earlier

stages form the basis for later stages but the difference

between them is not merely quantitative nor is the rate of

change controlled by maturational signals that allocate the

distribution of instinctual energies. These theories of de-

velopment are "structural-hierarchical' as opposed to embryo-

logical. Development is a dialectical process of progression

through invariant ordered stages. Development is a result of an

interaction between organism and environment resulting in a re-

organization of psychological structures. Neither an organism's

biological energy nor the contingencies of the environment are

sufficient in themselves. Development is an interactive process

with the organism bringing a structure, organizational construct,

or form into interaction with an environmental situation which

provides the content.

Langer's classification does a service by going beyond

McVicker Hunt's broad classic f ication of interactionistt"

theories or conceptions of development. Langer recognizes that

most major contemporary conceptions of development are based on

interaction and goes on to develop three models of development

that dii fer i n terms of which part of the interactive process

is emphasized as being the primary source of developmental change.

It is also clear that what Langer calls the 'organic lamp" model

is most descriptive of the conception of development Kohlberg

attr i butes t ) hinsl e I I, ) y Jn P i ag et. S t i I is organ i c

lamp metaphor is not helpful in clarifying the mechanism by

which developmental change occurs. (What does an organic lamp

do?) Nor is it helpful in assessing what the educational im-

I ications of this conception of development would be.


Thus, despite an increasing attention in the literature,

a good deal of confusion still exists about what different

developmental metaphors stand for, what their implications are,

and how they can be compared and contrasted.

For example, in a recent article, J. McVicker Hunt (1975)

argues that the adoption of a hierarchical and interactive

theory of human development would have a dramatic and desirable

effect on life in classrooms. After analyzing the logic of

the concept of development, however, C. Bailey (1969) questions

the use of the developmental metaphor at all, especially in

regard to moral learning.

This critique was echoed in articles by D. W. Hamlyn (1975)

and R. K. Elliott (1975), in which they examined the linguis-

tic subleties of the concept of development and concur that much

confusion exists, especially in regard to its educational uses.

Another article by D. C. Phillips and Mavis E. Kelly (1975)

surveys the products of develop m ni lal theorists and concludes

that both the empirical and conceptual foundations of develop-

mental theory are inadequate and deserve study and clarifica-

t ion.

Thus, despite a variety of attempts, there still is no

widely accepted scheme for classifying and comparing develop-

mental theories or conceptions and for determining their edu-

cational implications. Most needed from an educational per-

spective is a comparison of conceptions of development in re-

gard to the mechanism or process they employ to explain de-

velopmental growth, c lrllIn] e, or transition. Jo hn Flavel I


emphasizes the particular contribution philosophers can make

in this regard when he writes that "philosophers . .could

provide conceptual analyses of the processes and forms of

development itself, as contrasted with the outputs or products

of that development" (Flavell, 1971, p. 127).

In light of this review of the literature on development,

it is evident that Kohlberg's claim that his moral, psychological,

and educational views are bound centrally to those of Dewey and

Piaget by a common conception of development is problematical.

Though there has been an attempt to clarify Dewey's conception

of development (Marion, 1971), and Piaget has written specif--

ically on his view of development (Piaget, 1972), there has

been no effort to compare the three conceptions of development.

Indeed, besides Kohlberg's writing, few others have noted even

a connection among Kohlberg, Piaget, and Dewey. McVicker Hunt

makes one of the few efforts at putting Dewey and Piaget into

the same stream of psychological thought. lie notes that Piaget's

teacher in psychology was Edouard Claparede, who succeeded to

the chair of psychology previously held by Theodore Flournoy,

who was a friend and correspondent of William James, an impor-

tant influence on Dewey's early psychology (McVicker Hunt, 1961,

p. 112, n.3). A tenuous connection indeed In his discussion

of Kohlbcrg's theory of cognitive moral development and its

impl ications for educate ion, H Schl i fer (1976) asserts a basic

congruence among Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's develop-

mental stage theories (pp. 155-6). However, Kohlberg's own


claims of a continuity of thought regarding conceptions of

development among himself, Dewey, and Piaget are assumed and

not analyzed. Thus, the need remains for a specific comparison

of these conceptions of development to determine their elements

of congruence and an analysis of their educational implications.

Method of the Study

Stating the method of the present study requires a

description of what is involved in "comparing" conceptions of

development. "Comparing" conceptions of development is taken

in the sense of determining how similar, or, more precisely,

how "congruent," they are.

The Oxford English Dictionary (1961) gives several defini-

tions of congruence. In geometry, two figures are congruent

when one may be superimposed upon the other so as to coincide

exactly with it. In mathematics, two numbers are said to be

congruent when, being divided by a third number, they give the

same remainder. In general, congruence means a correspondence

in physical shape or form. In comparing conceptions of de-

velopment, however, there are no physical forms to manipulate

or superimpose, and no quantifiable things to be matched for

an observable fit. Consequently, this study is concerned with

verbal expressions. The definition of congruence in this study

then will be taken in the more general sense of agreement,

correspondence, consistency, or harmony. Congruence will be

determined by examining whether certain words, terms, and

phrases operate similarly in similar sentences and arguments


and whether they lead to similar diagnoses of issues and

problems. Thus, much of the study is concerned with noting

similarities of phrasing and the ways in which Dewey's, Piaget's,

and Kohlberg's conceptions of development are described.

Marion (1971) calls this method "theoretical analysis'

and distinguishes it from "ordinary language analysis" (p. 11).

Ordinary language analysis, sometimes called "conceptual

analysis" appeals to the authority of everyday contexts and

uses of words to clarify their meaning. An ordinary language

standard will not suffice for this study, however, because

much of the language is technical, specialized, and used in

unordinary contexts. The method of this study is called "com-

parative analysis" to distinguish it from ordinary language or

conceptual analysis as they are usually defined. It is neither

wholly logical nor wholly lexical (i.e., appealing to ordinary

usage). Attention also is given to the historical context in

which ideas and conceptions evolve and become refined.

Organization of the Study

The analysis of Dewey's, Pingq t's, and Kohlberg's con-

ceptions of development will be presented in chronological order.

The focus will be on how each has described the process or

mechanism of developmental change and the conditions that support

it .

Chapter II will begin by briefly tracing the historical

origins of the dialectical concept ion of development in Hegel

and Marx in order to put Dewey's ideas into context and give some


idea as to their genesis. The remaining discussion will be

devoted to Dewey's writings on development and especially his

writings on inquiry and thinking. Thinking and inquiry are

Dewey's ways of expressing what Piaget and Kohlberg call the

process of intellectual or cognitive development. After pre-

senting an overview of Dewey's views on development, both organic

or biological, and cognitive or intellectual, his conception of

development will be summarized in terms of four central elements,

namely, interaction, adjustment, equilibrium, and disequi-


Chapter III will focus on Piaget's writings on develop-

ment and especially on the elements of interaction, adaptation,

equilibration, and disequilibrium or conflict. Points of con-

gruence between Dewey and Piaget will be noted.

Chapter IV will present Kohlberg's conception of develop-

ment through an analysis of his views on alternative conceptions

of development and his writings on moral development. The basic

elements of Kohlberg's views, again focusing on interaction,

adaptation, equilibrium, and disequilibrium or conflict, will

then be compared with the views of Dewey and Piaget as described

in Chapters II and I .

Chapter V will consider the more general implications

of a dialectical conception of development for education.

Dewey's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg' s analyses and criticisms of

alternative conceptions of development and education will be

used to clarify their own views. Connections will be drawn


between developmental conceptions and educational strategies,

teaching practices, and curriculum matters.

Chapter VI will summarize briefly the present study's

conclusions. Finally, some topics deserving further study will

be noted.



In this chapter Dewey's conception of the developmental

process and the conditions that promote developmental change

will be analyzed from two perspectives: (1) his general ideas

about organic or biological development, and (2) his ideas about

the process of cognitive or intellectual development, which he

called "thinking." Dewey's ideas, however, did not arise de

novo. Thus, before addressing Dewey directly, a brief dis-

cussion of Hegel's and Marx's conceptions of development will be

offered. This will put Dewey into a historical and philo-

sophical context and serve to clarify some of the philosoph-

ical antecedents of modern developmental psychology.

Hegel's Conception of Development

One of Hegel's main contributions to philosophy was his

interpretation of history as a developmental process. He con-

ceived of history in two dimensions:

the horizontal, in which the phenomena
of different spheres of activity, occur-
ring among different peoples belonging
to the same stage of development, are
seen to be broadly inter-connected in
some unitary pattern, which gives each
period its own individual, "organic,"
recognizably unique character; and the
vertical dimens ion, i n w h ich the same
cross-section of events is viewed as
part of a temporal succession, as a

necessary stage in the developmental
process, in some sense contained and
generated by its predecessor in time,
which is itself seen already to embody,
although in a less developed state,
those very tendencies and forces whose
full emergence makes the later age that
which it ultimately comes to be.
(Berlin, 1972, pp. 46-7)

In this view of history as a developmental process, every era

must be viewed not only as an outgrowth of the past, but also

as containing the elements which will form the future.

This developmental process is not merely a smooth and

continuous growth by the accretion of events. Hegel saw the

even continuity of history interrupted by sudden spurts or leaps,

more qualitative than quantitative, to new levels or stages of

development. On a grand scale these leaps take the form of

political and social revolutions, but this process goes on in

all forms of human activity from the biological to the artistic.

The impetus for these transformat ions is found in the need to

resolve conflicts between ant ithet cal tendencies or forces which

necessarily arise in human activities. The developmental pro-

cess at a l levels "is one of necessary tension between incom-

patible forces each straining against the other, and by this

mutual conflict advancing their own development" (p. 55). Con-

flicts arise, tensions build between opposing views, each side

is merged into a new synthesis encompassing and extending both

positions, and the never-ending process begins again. Hegel

called this process dialecc ical and used the core idea of a

conf lict-tension-struggle-synthesis or equil ibrium mechanism as

his explanation for the development of man and his world.


This development was not aimless, however, but rather

tended toward greater perfection. The end toward which all

development progressed was referred to by Hegel as the Absolute,

the Idea, the Spirit, or some combination of these three. This

Spirit is the ultimate "stuff" of the universe, is necessarily

rational, and defines the highest end of human perfection and


Hegel conceived of individual human psychological develop-

ment in the same dialectical terms. In The Phenomenology of

Mind (1827/1910), he parallels the dialectical psychological

process of mental development with the dialectical process of

the historical and social progress of mankind. He describes how

this dialectical process "which consciousness executes on itself"

(p. 86) bring about "a transformation or conversion of con-

sciousness. . into a scientifically constituted sequence"

(p. 87) having three stages:

(1) in the form of self-relation, or Mind Subjective,

(2) in the form of reality, or Mindi Object ive, and

(3) in the unity of mind as object and ideal, or Hind Absolute

(Hegel, 1830/1971, p. 20).

Hegel's conceptions of individual and social development

formed a conservative doctrine. The end of man and society is

predetermined and defined by a spiritual and metaphysical Ab-

solute which could not be challenged, rationally argued against

(because it defined Reason), avoided, or made more imminent by

direct human intervention. Social injustice resulting from

arbitrary discrimination among men or impover ished material


surroundings was metaphysically justified as a necessary stage

toward the realization of Absolute Spirit.

Dewey's early Hegelianism is well-documented (Coughlan,

1973). Melvin C. Baker's (1966) fine work on Dewey's early

intellectual development notes that Dewey's early text on

psychology (1887) took a Hegelian perspective, defining psy-

chology as the science "of the reproduction of some universal

content or existence, whether of knowledge or action, in the form

of the individual, unsharable consciousness" (Dewey, 1887, p. 6).

However, a number of factors contributed to Dewey's even-

tual radical reinterpretation of Hegelianism. The tremendous

advancements in the human and social sciences after Darwin had a

great effect on Dewey's thinking and served to disconfirm Hegel's

idealist speculations (White, 1943, p. 11). Dewey's own attempts

at building a comprehensive empirical psychology came into con-

flict with Hegelianism. The Hegel ians were willing to admit

only perception as the province of psychology, leaving the

"higher" mental faculties, such as imagination, judgement, and

sel f-consciousness, to philosophy. Dewey (1886) argued that all

parts of human psychic experience were proper subjects for an

empirical psychology, and that rather than continuing to treat

philosophical and psychological subjects with different methods,

philosophy should become more empirical and adopt psychology as

part of the philosophical method of analysis.

Dewey also was opposed to the conservative implications

of Hegel's predetermined views of individual and societal develop-

ment. It is on these grounds that Dewey in Democracy and


Education criticized Hegel's conception of development as

being authoritarian, in the face of Hegel's Absolute

individuals have no spiritual rights;
personal development, and nurture,
consist of obedient assimilation of
the spirit of existing institutions.
Conformity, not transformation, is
the essence of education. (Dewey,
1916/1966, pp. 59-60)

Dialectical educational method, for Dewey, incorporates the

predetermined Hegelian view and is thus "nothing but a highly

effective systematization of the methods of teaching and learn-

ing which are appropriate to transmit an authoritarian body of

truth" (p. 280). As such, it divorces thought from action and

ignores the natural and observable in favor of the metaphysical

and ideal .

Dewey did not completely discard all of Hegel's ideas,

however. Hegel's basic conception of development as a contin-

uing transformative process of resolving conflicts or relieving

tensions through reconstruction of new, qualitatively different,

and more stable levels or stages, remained, but was recast in

naturalistic terms. Dewey writes,

With respect to more technically philo-
sophical matters, the Hegelian emphasis
upon continuity and the function of con-
flict persisted on empirical grounds
after my earlier confidence in dialectic
had given way to sceptisism. There was
a period . when I tried re-
interpreting his categories in terms of
"readjustment" and "reconstruction."
Gradually I came to realize that what
the principles actually stood for could
be better understood and stated when
completely emancipated from Hegelian garb.
(Dewey, in Schi lpp, 1939, p. 18)


Most writers cite Darwin's evolutionary theory as the

primary influence on Dewey's reinterpretation of the Hegelian

dialectical conception of development. Morton White (1943),

for example, focuses on the key notion of "conflict" as the

mechanism for developmental change.

He IDewey] begins with the Hegelian concept
of conflict. . Philosophy, according
to his 1884 paper on Kant, began with "con-
tradictions." From then, by Hegelian syn-
thesis, the solutions emerge. He then rides
very easily on the wave of a newly gained
naturalism into the Darwinian conflict doc-
trine. Man achieves intelligence in the
course of a struggle for existence, again
conflict. But now we come to the specif-
ically Dewoyan notion of conflict--the
conflict, or tension, which characterizes
human behavior in a problematic situation.
The march is intricate and exciting--from
Hegel to Darwin to Dewey. (p. 121)

Instead of discussing Darwin's conception of development

as another means of showing the eriergence of Dewey's view, I

will focus instead on M.larl 's conception of development. There

are three main reasons For this choice. First, a discussion of

Darwin's developmental views would be primarily biological and

anthropological. Marx i more philosophically oriented. Secondly,

Marx, like Dewey, was a "reformed" Hegelian and his reinterpre-

tations set the stage for Dewey's changes. Thirdly, there is a

current interest in Marxist psychology. Though this topic cannot

be treated fully in this study, an introductory attempt at show-

ing continuity between Marx and Dewey will prepare the way for

more detailed work.

Marx's Conception of Development

Marx, like Dewey, was a "Young Hegel ian" who sought to

free Hegelian philosophy from the conservative implications of

its conception of historical and human development. Marx was

one of a group of young German intellectuals whose work was

an effort to find some progressive inter-
pretation for the formulae of natural de-
velopment, to detach the Hegelian philosophy
from its preoccupation with past history and
to identify it with the future, to adapt it
to the new social and economic factors which
were everywhere coming into being. (Berlin,
1972, p. 63)

The conservative interpreters of Hegel identified ration-

ality with actuality, and thus "that the stage reached by social

or personal institutions, as they existed at any given moment,

was the sufficient measure of their excellence" (p. 6ll). The

radicals, in contrast, argued that the actual or present state

of affairs wa so .inconsistent, incoherent, and un ust, that it

could not be real or rational. They argued, citing Hegel, that

reality is in a constant process of transformation, and that pro-

gress resulted from conflict, struggle, and revolution, and only

then did significant qualitative transformations occur.

Marx's progressive reinterpretation of the laws of develop-

ment was distinctly Hegelian. He saw history and mankind develop-

ing through a succession of stages, each stage possessing its own

unique characteristics, but still following rom preceding stages

and foreshadowing stages to come. But where Hegel viewed this

process as directed by an absolute, supersensible Idea, Marx,

instead, rejected Hegel's Absolute Spirit as "mystification" and


unverifiable by the only powers humans can rely on, empirical

observation (pp. 124-5).

Marx turned then to an empirical search for an explanation

of the laws of natural, social, and personal development. He

found his answers in the facts of social, economic, and political

life. The forms of social relation which men enter into define

their material powers of production. Man's social existence

determines his level of consciousness, not the reverse as Hegel

had claimed. At a certain stage of social development, the

material powers of production come into conflict with the exist-

ing relations of production or property, tension is built,

struggle ensues, and revolutionary development occurs.

For Marx, like Hegel, developmental change is character-

ized by discontinuity, tension, conflict resolution, and a pro-

gressive reconstruction. The basic developmental conception

appears, but it is translated into at least a semi-empirical form.

History is not imposed on men by an i resistible environment or

unassailable spiritual force. Being human implies gaining free-

dom from the arbitrary interplay of forces and increasing control

over one's own life and the events which shape it. For Marx,

man attains this subi u at ion of his world
not by incr ease in knowledge e of contem-
plation .. but by activity- by labor--
the conscious molding by men of their en-
vironment and each other--the first and
most essential form of the unity cf will
and thought and deed, of theory and
practice. (Berlin, 1972, p. 128)

There are no fixed timeless principles, ultiniate aims, or single

goals for which man strives beyond the continued full development


of human powers in pursuit of human, intelligent ends. Thus,

development is open-ended, with no end other than continued

transformation and reconstruction.

With Marx, we begin to see the reinterpretation of the

Hegelian dialectical conception of development which Dewey was

to extend. This is not to suggest that Dewey can be read best

as a Hegelian or a Marxist. However, it is to suggest that

Dewey's philosophical and psychological ideas on development were

derived primarily from an empirically or naturalistically re-

interpreted dialectical conception of development.

This brief discussion of Hegel, Marx, and Dewey not only

has placed Dewey in a continuous historical context, but also

has clarified some of the philosophical antecedents of modern,

empirical developmental psychology and social science in general.

From Hegel 's transcendental idea to Marx's semi-empirical

political economy, to Dewey's observation of Laboratory School

students, to Piaget's clinical observations, and finally to

Kohlberg's cross-cultural, longitudinal research studies, there

is a continuous empirical refinement and verification of a common

conception of the process of development and the conditions that

encourage developmental change.

Biological or Organic Development

There is no schism between Dewey's conception of organic

or biological development and intellectual or cognitive develop-

ment. Indeed, the preceding discussion suggested that Dewey's

departure from Hegelianism was in large part due to the


influence of the findings of Darwin and other natural and

social scientists in their efforts at constructing a compre-

hensive, naturalistic theory of human development. The inter-

dependence of the biological and the psychological is evident

in many of Dewey's writings, but especially in Logic: The

Theory of Inquiry (1938), where he develops a biological basis

for human cognitive activity. There he writes,

The present chapter is concerned with
the biological natural foundations of
inquiry. It is obvious without argument
that when men inquire they employ their
eyes and ears, their hands and their
brains. . Hence, although bio-
logical operations and structures are
not sufficient conditions of inquiry,
they are necessary conditions .
The purpose of the following discussion
is to show that biological functions and
structures prepare the way for deliberate
inquiry and how they foreshadow its
pattern. (Dewey, 1938, p. 23)

It is necessary, therefore, to discuss Dewey's general bio-

logically-based conception of development before discussing

his specific conception of the development of intellectual

operations through thinking, and note the nature of their inter


Since this analysis is particularly interested in the

language Dewey uses to describe these processes, it should be

n o ed that Dewey often employs a constellation of similar con-

cepts interchangeably. H. S. Thayer (1973) fakes this point

about Dewey's description of the idea of "continuity," an im-

portant notion in all of Dewey's philosophy and especially im-

portant in looking at his conception of development. Thayer


writes that there is a group of descriptive words and meta-

phors that travel with "continuity," such as "unification,"

"growth," "progress," "integration," and "whole;" and a group

associated with "discontinuity," such as "rupture," "breaks,"

"gaps," and "fragmentation." While continuity expresses the

spirit of development, discontinuity stands for the problematic

or the destructive (p. 116). Thayer also notes the central im-

portance of a group of terms including "growth," "change," and

"development" in pragmatic theorizing (p. 118). With this in

mind, this analysis is not only interested in Dewey's actual

references to "development," but also to the many phrases and

terms he uses to express the sense and meaning of what "develop-

ment" is.

In one of Dewey's most famous passages, he writes,

When it is said that education is develop-
ment, everything depends upon how develop-
ment is conceived. Our net conclusion is
that life is development, and that develop-
ing, growing, is life. (Dewey, 1916/1966,
p. 419)

In order to understand Dewey's view of biological development,

then, we must analyze his description of the processes of living.

In Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938) Dewey provides

an account of living. He writes,

Whatever else organic life is or is not,
it is a process of activity that involves
an environment. I is a transaction ex-
tending beyond the spatial limits of the
organism. An organism does not I ive in
an environment; it lives by means of an
environment. . Every organic func-
tion is an interaction of intra-organic
and extra-organic energies, either

directly or indirectly. For life
involves expenditure of energy and the
energy expended can be replenished only
as the activities performed succeed in
making return drafts upon the environ-
ment--the only source of restoration of
energy. . The energy that is drawn
is not forced in from without; it is a
consequence of energy expended. If
there is a surplus balance, growth
occurs. If there is a deficit balance,
degeneration commences. (p. 25)

Dewey's notion of energy is different from Freud's, whose

psychological theory is often called a "hydraulic" theory be-

cause of its emphasis on maintaining a balance of instinctual

energies. For Dewey, merely expending energy is not character-

istic of living or developing. For development or growth to

occur, energy must be expended in such a way as to "succeed in

making return drafts upon the environment" (p. 25). A living

thing is able "to turn the energies which act upon it into means

of its own further existence" (Dewey, 1916/1966, p. 1). A I iving

thing expends energy to control the organism-environment situation

so t hat Ihe ambient energy is utilized as "a contributing Factor

to its own continued action" (p. 1). As this living or develop-

ing process progresses, the orgarnism-environment relation

changes. The "environment expands" and new organs provide "a

new way of interacting in which things in the world that were

previously indifferent enter into life-functions" (Dewey, 1938,

p. 25).

With new ways of interacting, however, come a 'need of

maintaining a balance among them; or, in objective terms, a uni-

fied environment" (p. 26). Continuing in this same vein, Dewey


writes that this balance must take the form of a sensitive

"mechanism that responds both to variations that occur within

the organism and in surroundings." This mechanism serves to

monitor and integrate the continuous changes in the relations

between organism and environment into a "fairly uniform environ-

ment." As long as life continues "the interactions to which

organic and environmental energies enter are such as to maintain

the conditions in both of them needed for later interactions.

These processes, in other words, are self-maintaining."

Dewey's (1938) description of how this developing process

works merits full quotation. He writes,

Each particular activity prepares the way
for the activity that follows. These form
not a mere succession but a series. This
seriated quality of life activities is
effected through the delicate balance of
the complex factors in each particular
activity. When the balance within a given
activity i s d i s turb ed h n t hee is a
proportionate uxccss or deficit in some
factor--then there is exhibited need, search,
and fulfillment. . The greater the
differentiation of structures and their
corresponding activities becomes, the more
difficult it is to keep in balance. Indeed,
living may be regarded as a continual r hy thm
of disequi ibratiuns and recoveries of equi-
l ibrium. The "higher' the organism, the
more serious becomes the disturbances and
the more energetic (and often more pro-
longed) are the efforts necessary for re-
establishment. The state of disturbed
equilibration constitutes need. The move-
ment toward its restoration is search and
exploration. The recovery is fulfillment
or satisfaction. (p. 27)

Living, as developing or growing, is an activity. The organism

has the potential for growth or development through its own

activities in dealing with the continually changing environmental


conditions and situations of disequilibrium and equilibrium.

Every need or disequilibrium denotes both a lack of adequate

adjustment in the organism and environment relationship and a

demand for a readjustment of this relationship through building

at least a temporary equilibrium (Dewey, 1934a, pp. 13-4).

Adjustment is the activity or mechanism that serves to

maintain a uniform environment and integrated or equilibrated

relations in an environment. For Dewey, however, adjustment is

not merely a passive affair of being molded by the demands of

the environment. Rather, adjustment involves a modification of

both organism and environment in order to form a reconstituted

situation and more balanced relationship. Dewey refers to this

idea of a mutually-effecting adjustment in a number of places

(Dewey, 1916/1966, pp. 46-7; 1917, p. 10; 1920, pp. 84-5; 1934a,

pp. 13-4). However, in his clearest statement on this subject,

Dewey distinguishes between the complementary processes, accom-

modation and adaptation, which together constitute the more

general process of adjustment. Accommodation is a passive pro-

cess, affecting particular modes of conduct, of modifying our

own attitudes in response to external conditions that cannot be

changed. Adaptation is a more active process, affecting particu

lar modes of conduct, of modifying conditions to our wants and

purposes. Adjustment is a more general process describing more

enduring modifications of our whole being (Dewey, 1934b, pp.

15-7). These three complementary processes act to keep organic-

environment equilibrium.

The result of this entire process is the movement from

a stage of imbalance, disturbed action, or need to a new stage

of recovery and satisfaction. However, the new stage is not

merely a complete restoration of the old stage or return to some

even earlier stage. In describing the aftermath of the equi-

librium-seeking search process, Dewey (1938) writes that the


involves a modified state of the organism.
The form of the relationship between or-
ganism and environment, of the interaction,
is reinstated, not the identical condi-
tions. Unless this fact is recognized, de-
velopment becomes abnormal. . Need re-
mains a constant factor but it changes its
quality. .. . The conservative tendency
is doubtless strong; there is a tendency
to get back. But in at least the more
complex organisms, the activity of search
involves modification of the old environ-
ment, if only by a change in the connec-
tion of the organism with i Ability to
make and retail n a changed mode of adapta-
tion in response to new conditions is Lhe
source of that more extensive development
called organic evolution. (p. 28)

Dewey summarizes his conception of the developmental pro-

cess by writing,

What exists in normal behavior-development
is thus a circuit of which the earlier or
"open" phase is the tension of various
elements of organic energy, while Lhe
final and "closed" phase is the instii t -
tion of integrated interaction of organism
and environment. This integration is rep-
resented upon the organic side by equi-
libration of organic energies, and upon
the environmental side by the existence
of satisfying conditions. In the behavior
of higher organisms, the close of the
circuit is not identical with the s ate
out of which disequilibration and tension
emerged. A certain modification of en-
vironment has also occurred, though it

may be only a change in the conditions
which future behavior must meet. On
the other hand, there is change in the
organic structures that condition future
behavior. (p. 31)

Dewey's conception of organic development can be sum-

marized in terms of its core components. Developing, like living,

involves an active processing of organismic-environmental inter-

actions. The organism and environment comprise an integrated

system of energies which is marked by continually shifting

patterns of balance and imbalance. Development or growth occurs

when actions are chosen that expend energy to create new forms

of interaction which increase control over future interactions

and produce a surplus of energy to fund continued development.

Life-activities occur in stages or series, each one pre-

paring the way for the next. At each stage, the balance of

factors in each activity is maintained by the complex, comple-

mentary mechanisms of accommodation, adaptation, and adjustment.

Accommodation implies modifying ourselves to specific external

demands. Adaptation is the modification of external events to

meet our wants and purposes. Adjustment is a more general pro-

cess involving both adaptation and accommodation which results

in more stable and total modification of our entire relationship

with the world.

When the balance in a life-system is disturbed, the

organism searches for new forms of relation with the environment

to fill the need, restore balance, and achieve equilibrium. De-

veloping, like living, is marked by a continual rhythm of dis-

equi I ibrium and equi I ib ium. The organism seeks self-maintenance


in striving for equilibrated relations. New equilibrated

relations or stages take the form but not the particular

content of the previous stages. New stages develop from prior

stages but are modified and qualitatively different.

Dewey describes development as an (1) equilibrium

(balance)-(2) disequilibrium (need, imbalance, disturbance)-

(3) equilibration (search, adjustment, exploration)-(4) new

equilibrium (fulfillment, satisfaction, balance) process. The

focus of the present study is on the nature of the process of

developmental change, its operative mechanisms, and the condi-

tions promoting it. In terms of the description above, this

corresponds to factors (2) and (3). Development is the result

of mutually-effecting or reciprocating organism-environment

interactions which give rise both to conditions of disequi-

librium or needs and to adjusting mechanisms that restore new

equ i l i br i u l I evels. DeveIlopment i s ca talyzed in conditLions where

disequilibr i um is present and wor ks through equilibrating mIechan-

isms, such as accommodation, adaptation, and adjustment, which

restore balance to the organic system. Stated slightly differ-

ently, development is characterized by continually occurring

conditions of conflict which are processed by equilibrating

mechanisms to restore equil ibrium to the integrated organism-

environment circuit.

Intellectual or Cognitive Development

As stated earlier, Dewey's conception of biological or

organic development is intimately intertwined with his con-

ception of intellectual or cognitive development and foreshadows


its form. The same pattern of movement from states of dis-

equilibrium to equilibrium which describes organic development

also describes the pattern of intellectual inquiry. Dewey

describes how the pattern of inquiry develops out of and paral-

lels the pattern of living. First, "environmental conditions

and energies are inherent in inquiry as a special mode of or-

ganic behavior" (Dewey, 1938, p. 33). Continuing in this

description, Dewey writes that inquiry must be "described as

behavior in which organism and environment act together, or


Secondly, the pattern of inquiry parallels the spatial

and temporal pattern of life-behavior.

For inquiry grows out of an earlier state
of settled adjustment, which, because of
disturbance, is indeterminate or proble-
matic (corresponding to the searching and
exploring activities of an organism);
when the search is successful, belief
or assertion is the counterpart, upon this
level, of redintegration upon the organic
level. (p. 34)

Dewey notes other parallels between inquiry and the pattern of

life-behavior. "There is no inquiry which does not involve

the making of some change in environing conditions." Inquiry

involves a modification of the subject-environment relations of

interaction. "The pattern of inquiry is serial or sequential,"

and "the serially connected processes and operations by means

of which a consummatory close is brought into being are, by

description, intermediate and instrumental" (p. 35). Equi-

librating processes and operations aim toward resolution of

conflict or tension in specific situations and are by no means

final. Finally,

Modification of both organic and environ-
mental energies is involved in all life-
activity. Thus organic fact foreshadows
learning and discovery with the consequent
outgrowth of new needs and new problematic
situations. Inquiry, in settling the dis-
turbed relation of organism-environment
(which defines doubt) does not merely re-
move doubt by recurrence to a prior adapt-
ive integration. It institutes new en-
vironing conditions that occasion new
problems. What the organism learns dur-
ing this process produces new powers that
make new demands upon the environment.
In short, as special problems are re-
solved, new ones tend to emerge. There
is no such thing as final settlement, be-
cause every settlement introduces the
conditions of some degree of new un-
settling. (Dewey, 1938, p. 35)

Thinking is the psychological process that describes the

activity of inquiry. Since Dewey uses the language of thought

in the same way Piaget and Kohlberg use the language of cogni-

tion, it is necessary to analyze the process and conditions that

characterize Dewey's conception of the development of thinking

in order to determine their congruence with Piaget's and Kohlber g s

characterization of the process and conditions that mark cogni-

tive development.

Thinking, like organic development and inquiry, arises

out of conflict or disequilibrium. Dewey (1894) writes, "To

me it appears as sure a psychological as biological principle

that men go on thinking only because of practical friction or

strain somewhere, that thinking is essentially solution of

tension" (p. 408). Thinking starts with a "perplexed, troubled,

or confused situation at the beginning and a cleared-up,


unified, resolved situation at the close" (Dewey, 1910, p. 106).

The conditions in which the development of thought occurs are

problematic or indeterminate, confused, obscure because their

final consequence cannot be foreseen, and conflicting (Dewey,

1938, p. 106). It is in these conflicting or indeterminate

situations that the thinking process begins "as an instrument

for guiding man to his advantage in confusing situations"

(Baker, 1966, p. 36). In this instrumentalist view, "thought

is a doubt-inquiry process conducted for the purpose of attain-

ing that mental equilibrium known as assurance or knowledge"

(p. 36). Paralleling his conception of organic development,

Dewey describes thinking as the process of resolving doubts or

disequilibrium toward the attainment of knowledge or equilibrium.

In an early paper (1900), Dewey offers a recapitula-

tionist sequence of the development of successive stages of

logical thought as they have occurred in the history of the

human race and in the individual (p. 465). He describes these

stages of thinking as "successive species of the relationship

which doubting bears to assurance" (Dewey, 1900, p. 465). These

stages of thinking develop out of equilibrated conflict. He

writes that "just in the degree that what has been accepted as

fact--the object of assurance--loses stable equilibrium, the

tension involved in the questioning attitude increases, until

a readjustment gives a new and less easily shaken equilibrium

(pp. 465-6).

The precise content of these stages of thought or

cognitive levels is not as important for the purposes of this

study as is a description of the conditions which promote de-

velopmental change and the mechanisms which explain stage

transition. In this early work, Dewey's primary interest is

not on these questions. He writes that "to determine the social

and psychological conditions of this transition lies beyond my

purpose, since I have in mind only a descriptive setting forth

of the periods through which, as a matter of fact, thought has

passed in the development of the inquiry function" (p. 471).

However, he does describe in general terms some of the conditions

under which transition between stages of thinking develops.

For example, in stage one where thoughts are seen as

fixed ideas, the ability to manage and apply a growing stock of

Fact knowledge directly ut I hum n problems become es i increasingly

more difficult and confusing. Some modi fiction is needed and

the idea

gets somewhat shaken. It has to be made
over so that it may harmonize with other
ideas . Simplification and systema-
lization are required. . Critical cases
come up in which the fiction of an idea or
rule already in existence cannot be main-
tained. . Old ideas have to be radi-
cally modified before the situation can be
dealt with. (Dewey, 1900, p. 472)

At this point of disequilibrium a new stage of thinking is

deve loped to cope with o d con I i c Dewey character r i zes this

new stage as discussion, a conversation of thoughts, or dialogue.

Thinking in this form is an activity designed to question the

validity of all factual knowledge.


The same conflict-equilibriumn processes go on between

the other stages of thinking. Stage two, discussion, passes

into stage three, reasoning, when there is a need to go beyond

the constant discussion and questioning of ideas and develop

systematic procedures or unassailable first principles for

proving or determining the credibility attached to any proposi-

tion (pp. 475-8). Stage three, reasoning, passes into stage

four, scientific, when the first principles or premises used for

determining the validity of arguments and ideas, themselves come

under attack and are challenged. Scientific thinking achieves a

new equilibrium by making doubt and inquiry its ideals. Conflicts,

discrepancies, and anomalies are the main subject of interest be-

cause they raise doubts and extend the thinking process (pp. 481-8).

By 1910 in How We Think Dewey had made significant progress

toward reinterpreting his general theory of the development of

stages of thinking into psychological and individual terms, and

even began to describe the characteristic modes of thinking of

children at different ages and stages. Again, the precise content

of these stages or the ages they refer to are not the primary

interest of this study. Instead, we are interested in how Dewey

describes the development of thought and the conditions which

promote it.

Dewey (1910) describes five basic elements common to all

types of thinking. They are: "(i) a felt difficulty; (i i) its

location and definition; (i i i) suggestion of possible solution;

(iv) development by reasoning of thc bearings of the suggestion;


(v) further observation and experiment leading to its acceptance

or rejection" (p. 72). Just as in his conception of organic

development and inquiry, for Dewey, thinking, the development of

cognitive or intellectual abilities, begins in conflicting or

problematic situations that demand reconstruction or equilibra-

tion. The nature of the initial conflicts may differ but the

purpose of the thinking process is always the same; resolve the

conflict and restore balance. Three examples Dewey cites under-

score this point.

In some cases, "the difficulty resides in the conflict

between conditions at hand and a desired and intended result.

The object of thinking is to introduce congruity between

the two. . The problem is the discovery of intervening terms

which when inserted between the remote end and the given means

will harmonize with each other" (Dewey, 1910, p. 72). In other

cases, ''the difficulty experienced is the incompatibility of a

suggested and (temporarily) accepted belief. . with certain

other facts. . Here the object of discovery . is to

discover a course of action which will combine existing conditions

and a remote result in a single whole" (p. 73). Describing a

scientific example, Dewey writes, "An observer trained to the

idea of natural laws or uniformities finds something odd or ex-

ceptionable in the behavior of bubbles. The problem is to reduce

the apparent anomalies to instances of well-established laws"

(p. 73).

Recalling H. S. Thayer's comments about the group of words

Dewey uses to express the ideas of development, growth, and

continuity (supra, p. 42), it is clear that Dewey's description

of the thinking process follows the same basic model as his con-

ception of development. The conditions out of which thinking

develops are marked by conflict, difficulty, incompatibility,

and anomalies. The operative processes or mechanisms of think-

ing work to resolve conflicts, reestablish congruity, restore

harmony, combine disparate elements into a single whole, or re-

interpret anomalies in terms of more general laws. In general

terms, Dewey's view of thinking is based on the same disequil ib-

rium-equilibrium continuum that characterizes his general con-

ception of development. Thinking begins with facts and condi-

tions which are fragmented, isolated, and discrepant. Their in-

coherence stimulates a search for an overall meaning, a "whole,"

which will provide a "mental platform" from which to continue

think, ing at a more refined level (De ey, 1938, p. /9).

Thinking, the development of intellectual abilities, begins

in conditions of conflict (disequilibrium), and works by restor-

ing harmony between conflicting elements equilibrationn), in the

form of new coherent wholes or mental platforms (stages).

Summa ry

In this chapter, Dewey's conception of development, both

organic and intellectual, was described and analyzed. The roots

of Dewey's conception of development were traced to Hegel's thesis-

antithesis-synthesis dialectic and to Marx, who reinterpreted


Hegel's dialectic in empirical or naturalistic terms. In

analyzing Dewey, special attention was focused on the conditions

that promote developmental change and the processes or mechanisms

by which development occurs. In general terms, for both organic

and intellectual development, Dewey describes development in

terms of a disequilibrium--equilibrium continuum where development

occurs as a means of resolving conflicts and restoring equilibrium.

Specifically, both organic and intellectual development results

from a mutually-effecting interaction which both gives rise to

disequilibria and conflicts, and acts to restore equilibrium

through accommodation, adaptation, and adjustment. The core ele-

ments of this conception of development, namely, interaction, ad-

justment, disequilibrium, and equilibrium, can be used to sum-

marize Dewey's views and provide a basis on which to compare Dewey

to P ia(et and ( Kohlberg.

Interaction "

The most basic definer characterizing Dewey's conception of

organic and intellectual development is interaction. Developing,

as living, always involves an interaction of intra-organic and

extra-organic energies. Similarly, intellectual development,

through thinking and inquiry, depends upon the interaction of the

organism and the environment or of mental demand and material

supply. Interaction in this sense does not refer to an occa-

sional contact between two separate objects. As Eames writes,

The relation of organism and environment
is a functional affair, and it is only in
abstraction that one can talk about environ-
ment and organism as things apart. The re-
lation is not one in which a discrete entity

(called the organism) and another discrete
entity (called the environment) are viewed
as separate and sel f-enclosed and then
brought together in some kind of interaction
with each other. (Eames, 1977, p. 42)

Interaction, instead, refers to the continual, mutually-

effecting relations between an organism and the environment it

lives with and in.

Disequilibrium and Equilibrium

In the course of living and interaction with the environ-

ment and developing new relations of interaction, imbalances or

disturbances in the organism-environment relationship arise.

These disequilibria, constituting need and denoting a lack of

adequate adjustment or balance in the organism-environment inter-

action, catalyze a search for a means of restoring balance and at

least temporary equilibrium. The organism seeks to maintain a

state of dynamic equilibrium and thus the occurrence of dis-

equilibria catalyze tile development of new forms, structures, and

relations, derived from, but not identical to, prior forms,

structures, and relations. Developing, as living, is a constant

movement from states of imbalance, need, or disequilibrium to

states of balance, satisfaction, or equilibrium.

Similarly, in intellc Ict al development interacting with tihe

world and striving to extend one's powers gives rise to states

of disturbance, indeterminancy, or contradiction. Thinking begins

in these problematic situations where the organism-environment

relation is imbalanced and there is an awareness of difficulty or

conflict. The purpose of thought is to resolve these conflicts

and doubts and restore equilibrium in the form of assurance or


knowledge. The development of intellectual or cognitive abili-

ties involves a movement from states of disequilibrium to new

equilibrium levels, derived from, but not identical to, forms ol

thought at prior levels.

Adjus tment

As mentioned, interaction gives rise both to conditions of

disequilibrium and to the adjusting processes that modify sub-

ject, environment, and their relation to new states of temporary

equilibrium. Thus, adjustment involves accommodation, modifying

the organism in response to unalterable environmental conditions,

and adaptation, modifying and manipulating environmental events

in light of organismic needs and purposes. Because this adjust-

ment process is mutually-effecting, changing subject, environ-

ment, and their relation, the new states of adjusted equilibrium

are not merely copies of old levels, but qualitatively different

recon struct ions.

Simi larly, in regard to the development of intellectual

abilities, the brain, as the organ of thought, is a part of the

same machinery for making adjustments to the environment as the

hands, eyes, and ears. Thinking involves transformation or re-

adjustment of the original problematic situation, which implies

a chance in the subject and its mind as well as the environmental

conditions (Dewey, 1931, p. 30). Intelligence is just the ability

to determine what sorts of accommodations, adaptations, and ad-

justments are necessary in various situations in order to solve

problems and gain further control over future events.


The next chapter will describe and analyze Piaget's ex-

planations of the developmental process, focusing especially

on the elements of interaction, adjustment (adaptation for

Piaget), equilibration, and disequilibrium or conflict. A

comparison of Dewey and Piaget on these core elements, determin-

ing the congruence of their conceptions of development, will

then enable a direct assessment of Kohlberg's claims that his

conception of development is a restatement of Dewey's and




Organization of the Chapter

In this chapter Piaget's conception of development will

be described, analyzed, and finally compared to Dewey's to

determine their congruence. Like Dewey, Piaget believes there

is a necessary interdependence between organic or biological

development and cognitive or intellectual development. Both

aspects of development will be considered; however, greater atten-

tion will be given to cognitive development, since it is the

more educationally relevant topic. Piaget's clinical observa-

tions of children provided him with the evidence to go beyond

Dewey's (1915, pp. 97-108) sketchy descriptions of the actual

characteristics exhibited by children in different stages of

development and offer a detailed and comprehensive stage theory.

The focus of this study, however, is not on the specific content

or characteristics of Piagut's stages, but rather on how he ex-

plains the process or mechanisms of developmental change or stage

transition and the conditions that promote it. Piaget's develop-

mental theory often is separated into its stage-dependent and

stage-independent aspects In these terms, the focus of this

chapter, as in the study as a whole, is on the stage-independent

aspects of Piaget's developmental theory. Of special importance

in this regard will be P i a yet's writ ings on the interactive


processes of assimilation, accommodation, and adaptation,

equilibrium and equilibration, and ihe role of cognitive con-

f ict or disequilibrium.

Organic or Biological Development

Piaget's two main intellectual interests have been in

biology and epistemology, the study of life and the study of

knowledge. His attempts to integrate these concerns through a

unique approach he calls "genetic epistemology" have frustrated

those who define "appropriate" subjects for study in terms of

disciplinary perspectives. Piaget offers his approach to the

study of psychology as a way to bridge the gap between scientific

(biological) knowledge about human l i fe and philosophical theories

of human knowledge. In this respect he is similar to Dewey, who

advocated psychology as a method to integrate philosophical and

scientific inquiry.

Piaget has expended considerable effort to document the

continuity between biological and cognitive development. In

Biology and Knowledge (1971) and The Origins of Intelligence in

Children (1952/1963), he offers a wide variety of scientific

research findings, historical analyses, and philosophical argu-

ments to document the relations between organic ife and cogni tiv

processes. Thus, though organic and cognitive development can be

distinguished for purposes of description and analysis, their

isomorphic or parallel nature must be remembered.

The basic elements of the developmental process, both

organic and cognitive, are found in Piaget's description of living


or organic development. Living, for Piaget. involves a constant

process of interaction with an environment. Life is not merely

automatically responding to the determining stimuli of the en-

vironment nor awaiting the unfolding of some genetic or in-

stinctual plan. He writes,

Thus, the fundamental reality about living
things is constituted neither by timeless
structures, standing outside history or
dominating it like equilibrated organiza-
tion forms with permanent conditions, nor
by a historical succession of chances or
crises like a series of disequilibria
without equilibrations. It consists,
rather, of continuous processes of auto-
regulation implying both disequilibria
and a constant equilibration dynamism.
This means that anyone who sees
S . a belief in the systematic primacy
of one or the other of these factors will
have failed to understand me, my central
idea being constantly that of interaction.
(Piaget, 1971, pp. 347-8)

Liv i iq, then, involves an i ntu raic iv orj in i smin in a cons nta

process of balancing or equilibrating relations with an en-

vironment. "The living organization is an equilibrated system"

(p. 36). The nature io these equilibrating or balancing pro-

cesses is the most important aspect of this account for the

purposes of this study.

Piaget contrasts two types of hereditary endowment that

affect human biological and cognitive functioning. Specific

heredity is the source of our inborn, anatomical, species-

specific, physical structures. These determine the possible

limits of human development in obvious ways. The kind of sensory

organs we have both allows certain experiences and prohibits

others. For example, our nervous and sensory systems only allow.


certain wavelengths of light or sound to be perceived, our

respiratory system prohibits life in the absence of oxygen,

and many other obvious examples. The endowments of specific

heredity have an undeniable controlling influence on our

biological and intellectual functioning.

For Piaget, however, specific heredity plays only a minor

role in accounting for biological and cognitive development.

Besides the physical structures inherited, Piaget believes that

through general heredity we inherit a "mode of intellectual

functioning" (Flavell, 1963, p. 43) or manner of interacting with

the environment. This general strategy for interacting with the

world is a part of our biological endowment and as such remains

constant throughout life. It is for this reason Piaget calls

these modes of functioning "functional invariants" (Piaget,

1952/1963, pp. 3-4). These functional invariants act as a means

of orienting the organism in a consistent manner of interaction

with an environment. Piaget stresses that these are not "innate

ideas" or "a priori" structures of any kind (p. 3). They are

not structures at all, but rather functional tendencies or dis-

positions to action that remain constant throughout the contin-

uous process of organic and cognitive structural change.

These invariant functions or core tendencies in bio-

logical and cognitive functioning are organization and adapta-

tion (p. 5). These define the essence of intellectual and

biological functioning and establish their interdependence.

Organization and adaptation are necessarily complementary pro-


From the biological point of view,
organization is inseparable from adapta-
tion: They are two complementary pro-
cesses of a single mechanism, the first
being the internal aspect of the cycle
of which adaptation constitutes the ex-
ternal aspect. (Piaget, 1952/1963, p. 7)

Their specific attributes, however, can be illustrated through

an example.

One of the most basic, perhaps the most basic, functions

of living matter is the incorporating of nutrition-providing

substances from the outside into its own structure. The living

organism grows or develops through this sort of organism-

environment transaction. Adaptation to the environment is one

of the necessary invariant functions describing this transaction.

Adaptation occurs whenever an organism-environment transaction

produces modification in the organism so as to enhance or in-

crease the possibility of further transactions occurring which

are favorable to the preservation of the organism (p. 5). Or-

ganism-environment interactions are only adaptive to the degree

which they modify the organism in such a way as to extend the

possibilities of preserving and extending life. Adaptation it-

self can be separated into two distinct, but complementary, pro-

cesses: assimilation and accommodation.

The process of changing elements in the environment in order

that they can be incorporated into the structure of the organism

is assimilation. Nutrition from outside, food, must be changed

before its life-giving properties can be utilized. It is chewed,

digested, inJ acted upon by body chemistry until it is traistrafor ed

into the kind of form the body can use. Organic structures act


upon and change the environment through interaction. The specific

form of this process changes in different contexts and with

different elements, but the process of assimilation itself is

present in every instance of adaptation. For this reason it is

a functional invariant.

The process of modifying the organism or organic structures

in response to environmental demands is the complementary process

called accommodation. Before the food can be incorporated into

the body a variety of organismic changes must occur. The mouth

must open, jaws and teeth operate, digestive acids be produced,

and so on. Just as the food is transformed before it is incor-

porated into the body, the body must undertake certain actions or

changes in its system, to accommodate the food. Accommodation

also takes a variety of forms depending upon the nature of the

environmental object or demand presented, hut it always occurs in

some form in the adaptive process, thus it is also a functional

inva r iant.

Organization, the "internal" aspect of the system of organic

functions which characterize living, refers to the tendency for

all species to arrange their processes into coherent systems

(Ginsburg and Opper, 1969, p. 17). Adaptive actions, assimilation

and accommodation, do not spring from organs, muscles, tissues,

and bones haphazardly arranged inside a skin. An adaptive act

always presupposes an underlying organization which coordinates

actions (Piaget, 1952/1963, p. 78). The highly complex adaptive

process of balancing organismic-environmental interactions is an

organized affair undertaken by an organized being.


For Piaget, then, organisms acquire from general heredity

tendencies to organize biological processes and adapt to their

environment. Organization and adaptation are intimately inter-

twined. They are both products of general biological endowment

and complementary aspects of the same process of living through

interaction with the environment. In the process of organizing

its activities, the organism assimilates external objects or

stimuli into its existing organic structures and at the same time

accommodates or modifies existing structures in response to ex-

ternal factors.

As a result of these invariant tendencies of organization

and adaptation, new or modified structures are constantly being

created to further extend the possibilities of interaction with

the environment. Piaget writes, "life is a continuous creation

of increasingly complex forms and a progressive balancing of

these forms with the environment (Piaget, 1952/1963, p. 3).

While organization, assimilation, and accommodation are

the invariant modes of functioning i n organic development their

purpose is to establish equ i i br i um in the organism -envi ronment

relationship. Piaget (1971) writes that "the living organization

is an equilibrated system" (p. 36) and that living is marked by

a continuous dynamic regulation or equilibration of disequilibria

in the organic system (p. 347). Equilibrated structures are the

result of organic org lan i/a i on aind adaptation. P i e t wri L.e

that "adaptation is an equilibrium between assimilation and

accommodation" (Piaget, 1952/1963, p. 6; 1971, p. 172). Organi-

zat ion and adap t a t i on i re r e I a t i ni or eq u i I r a ii nq procc S es


that serve to maintain a balance in organism-environment inter-

actions. This is not a "steady state" balance of continually

returning to old forms, but a progressive balance, constantly

creating new forms or structures in response to disequilibria

through interaction with the environment. Biological development

is an equilibrium of assimilation and accommodation involving the

organism's organized physiological structures.

Interaction with the environment creates a constant series

of disequilibria. The organism's structures are not suitable

for responding to or incorporating every environmental demand or

stimulus. Both organism and environment must be modified in order

to truly interact. The presence of disequilibrium is the source

of the equilibration process of assimilation and accommodation

which produces new balanced forms or structures which increase the

control over future interact ions with the environment. Piaget

(1971) describes equilibration as a correcting or balancing pro-


Now all these forms of organic regulation
conform to the general characters ic of
the correcting or moderaLing of error, a
characteristic not inconsistent with the
constructive aspect of regulation, since
the correcting aspect is an expression of
reequilibration or equilibration. (p. 206)


As soon as there is any differentiation in
the regulatory organs, as with tht endocrine
and nervous systems, this characteristic of
control, now correcting and now activating,
becomes ever more marked and is manifested
in every domain by reequilibrations or the
maintenance of an approximate equilibrium.
(p. 207)


Disequilibrium or imbalance is also characterized as "need."

Piaget (1952/1963) writes that "need as such is the motive power

for all activity" (p. 44) and that "Irom the physiological point

of view, moreover, need presupposes an organization in 'mobile

balance' of which it simply indicates a transitory imbalance"

(p. 45). The presence and recognition of need supplies the

conditions for development, through organization and adaptation,

to take place. He writes,

We do not act unless we are momentarily
in disequilibr ium . [which manifests
itself as] awareness of a need. Conduct
ends when the need is satisfied; the re-
turn to equilibrium is thus marked by a
feeling of satisfaction. This schema is
very general: no nutrition without ali-
mentary needs; no work without needs; no
act of intelligence without a question,
that is without a felt lacuna, therefore
without disequilibrium, therefore with-
out need. (PiageL, in Mischel, 1971, p. 327)

This brief summer ary of Piaget's conception of organic

development or life serves the purpose of both introducing the

terms Piaget uses to describe and explain the developmental pro-

cess and his general model of development which wi ll be carried

over into his conception of cognitive development. For Piailet,

organic development, as life, takes place through an active pro-

cessing of organism-environmental interactions. All organisms

inherit the basic modes of functioning or tendencies, organiza-

tion and adaptation, which characterize a general manner of in-

teraction. Adaptation itself is composed of two complementary

processes, assimilation and accommodation, which, when in equi-

librium, produce progressive adaptation. The organism tends,


through these processes, to maintain a dynamic interaction

with the environment, continuously varying between disequilib-

rium and equilibrium as it tries to extend itself. Organic de-

velopment is a continuous process of regulation "implying both

disequilibria and a constant equilibration dynamism" (Piaget,

1971, p. 347). Disequilibrium provides the motive or conditions

promoting equilibrating action. Disequilibrium takes the form

of conflicts, errors, imbalances, or needs, which promote develop-

ment, through equilibration, resulting in new forms, balances, or

equilibrium states that temporarily provide satisfaction. De-

velopmental change is prompted by conditions of disequilibrium

or imbalance and characterized by an active processing, through

organization and adaptation, toward modified or new stages of

equi i ibrium. This same basic model provides the basis for

Piagel's conception of cognitive development.

Cognitive or Intell ectual Development

As mentioned, the essential elements of Piaget's conception

of cognitive development are found in his conception of organic

development. Comparing cognitive and organic development, Piaget

(1971) writes that "the more generalized functions of the

organism--organization, adaptation, and assimilation--are all

found once more when we tuln to the cognitive domain, where all

of them play the same essential part" (p. 212). In general terms,

Piaget explains cognitive development in terms of interaction,

adaptation, equilibrium, and disequilibrium. These definers or


core characteristics can be used to present Piaget's views and

provide a basis for comparison to Dewey.

Just as in organic development, Piaget sees the develop-

ment of knowledge or cognitive abilities as an interactive pro-

cess. Knowledge is not a copy of reality and thus knowing is

not a passive acceptance of external events. He writes that

Human knowledge is essentially active. To know is to assimilate

reality into systems of transformations. To know is to transform

reality in order to understand how a certain state is brought

about" (Piaget, 1970a, p. 15). Knowledge is a continuous re-

construction, a discovery and formation of new structures which

are progressively more adequate for understanding the world (p. 15,

77). One knows an object by acting on it (Piaget, 1972, p. 38).

The child does not wait for environmental events to occur, but

rather actively seeks them out. When found, they are interpreted,

transformed, given meaning, and assimilated. For Piaget, humans

do not l ive in an env i rl- nmen t ; they l ive with I an env i ronment.

Each is transformed in the process of cognitive development

(Ginsburg & Opper, 1969, p. 70).

Knowledge does not come directly from our sensory percep-

tions. Sensory perceptions provide the grounding for intellec-

tual development, but they must be acted upon, organized, and

adapted. Pure sensory perception is especially prone to dis-

tortion (i.e., illusions) and thus activities on our part serve

to correct sensory mechanisms. Piaget (1969) writes that "per-

ception is of the here and now and serves the function of fitting

each object or particular event into its available assimilative


frameworks" (p. 359). Knowledge develops through an interaction

of subject and object marked by

an endless construction of new schemes
by the subject during his development,
schemes to which he assimilates the per-
ceived objects and in which there are no
definable boundaries between the prop-
erties of the assimilated object and
the structures of the assimilating sub-
ject. (p. 364)

The acquisition and development of knowledge or cognitive

abilities presupposes an interaction of subject with object.

Just as in organic development, this adaptive interaction is

marked by both assimilation and accommodation.


The development of knowledge or intellectual functioning

takes place through the same general processes as does organic

development: assimilation and accommodation governed by a

balancing mechanism of equilibration. When assimilation and

accommodation are in equilibrium, adaptation is said to occur.

Assimilation involves the incorporation of environmental

stimuli through activity into existing cognitive structures.

The products of new experience are incorporated only to the

extent they are congruent or "match" with existing cognitive

structures (Bei l en, 1971, p. 89). Every cognitive event or ex-

perience involves some structuring or restructuring of external

reality into the subject's cognitive organization (Piaget, 1971,

p. 72; Flavell, 1963, p. 48). Assimilation functions the same

in the cognitive realm as it does in the biological; to transform

or interpret or reconstruct an environmental object or event in


order for it to be incorporated into the organism's cognitive

organization or structure.

The complementary cognitive process, just as in organic

terms, is accommodation. This represents transformations or

modifications the subject makes in existing cognitive structures

to allow for the incorporation of new events or experiences into

its system of cognitive organization and meanings. A leading

American interpreter of Piaget writes that accommodation "is

the process by which the individual adapts, modifies, or applies

its inner organization to the particular environmental real ity"

(Furth, 1969, p. 245).

When these two processes which describe the mode of inter-

acting with the world were discussed in the section on organic

development (supra, pp. 62-64), the example of eating was offered

as an illustrate ion. A brief example of non-biol yi ca I ass imil a-

tion and accommodation should suffice here.

An infant is presented for the first time with a toy

rattle. Because it is a novel feature of the environment, the

child needs to adapt to it. The child has grasped objects be-

fore, and if the rattle is not strikingly different from previous

"grasping' experience the infant will try to assimilate the object

to its experience. It will try to deal with a novel object in

terms of a habitual pattern of behavior and level of understanding

The chi Id tries to transl ormi the object into somweth ing it "under-

stands" and can use; a thing to be grasped. At the same time,

the infant must accommodate itself to the rattle. It must adjust


its visual activities to perceive the rattle in proper per-

spective, adjust to the distance between the toy and itself,

change its fingers to grasp according to the rattle's size, and

so on. Depending upon the novelty of the object, the infant

must adapt, through assimilation and accommodation, its be-

havioral patterns and cognitive organization to understand the

rattle as a "thing to be grasped" (Ginsburg & Opper, 1969, p. 19).

These two processes or functions define interaction with

the world and are at the heart of the developmental process.

The development of knowledge or cognitive abilities is based

upon subject-object interaction and the adaptive processes of

assimilation and accommodation are the complementary forms in

which this interaction occurs. Again, it is important to re-

member that assimilation and accommodation always occur together

and seek equilibrium. Piaget (1952/1963) writes that

assimilation can never be pure because by
incorporating new elements into its earlier
schemata the intelligence constantly modi-
fies the latter in order to adjust them to
new elements.
Conversely, things are never known by them-
selves, since this work of accommodation is
only possible as a function of the inverse
process of assimilation. (pp. 6-7)

When the infant grasps the rattle, it accommodates its fingers

to the rattle's shape; at the same time it is assimilating the

rattle into its organization, the grasping structure.

The processes of assimilation and accommodation describe

part of Piaget's conception of the developmental process. They

explain, in part, how developmental change actually occurs. As


accommodatory acts extend the limits of the subject's environ-

ment, new elements are also transformed and assimilated into

existing cognitive structures. These changed structures then

make more extensive accommodatory behaviors possible. As

Flavell (1963) writes, "The twin invariants innervate each other

in reciprocal fashion: changes in assimilatory structure direct

new accommodations, and new accommodatory attempts stimulate

structural reorganization (p. 50).

But though these processes describe the manner of inter-

acting with the world, they do not fully explain the mechanism

of development nor do they state the conditions which promote

developmental change. Remembering that, for Piaget, the reason

for assimilation and accommodation processing is to bring equi-

librium to disequilibrized situations, we must turn to Piaget's

account of the mechanism of transition of developmental change,

equilibration, and the conditions that necessitate equilibration

and thus promote intellectual development, cognitive conflict.


Equilibration is the central element in Piaget's entire

developmental theory. As Flavell (1963) wri tes,

It comprises a general theoretical con-
struction which is imposed, as form on
content, on the whole developmental pan-
orama. Not an area of development it-
self, it is a global conception of what
the whole developmental process and its
successive structural products are
about. (p. 238)

Piaget himself writes that "if it is granted . that the

organism is an open and essentially active system, then


development cannot be explained without having recourse to

equilibration processes" (Piaget, in Tanner and Inhelder, 1960,

p. 77).

Piaget proposes equilibration as the mechanism of trans-

ition from one stage of development to the next. It is the pro-

cess which continually operates and regulates interactions between

a subject and its environment. Equilibration is linked intimately

with the processes of adaptation. Equilibration is the process

which brings assimilation and accommodation into coordination. A

state of equilibrium refers to a balanced relationship or inte-

gration between subject and environment, hence a balance between

assimilation and accommodation.

Intellectual adaptation, like every other
kind, consists of putting an assimilatory
mechanism and a comp lenentary accommodation
into p rog res si ve equ i I i hr i um (Pi agent L
1952/1963, p. 7)

Piaget describes equilibration as the most general and

inclusive factor explaining development. Although he does con-

sider the usual kinds of developmental mechanisms to be necessary

and important, he feels that no one factor or group of factors

is suf I icient without consideration of the equil vibration process.

He cites four main factors which can be used to explain develop-

ment: maturation, experience, social transmission, and equil -

bration (Piaget, 1972, p. 39; Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, pp. 154-7).

A brief discussion of tie role and limitations he assigns to the

first three will be helpful before undertaking a fuller discussion

of equilibration.


Maturation of the body as a whole and nervous system in

particular plays a necessary role ii cognitive development.

The size of the brain, the growth of sensory-motor coordination,

and the development of the speech organs are all important

factors dependent largely upon maturation which effect the de-

velopment of cognitive abilities. However, although maturation

essentially prepares the way for development by creating new

organic structures, these have an operational potential and are

dependent upon exercise, experience, and education for their

specific content and fulfillment. Further, maturation is in-

sufficient in itself to explain development because it has been

found that different stages occur at different ages in different

cultures (Piaget, 1972, p. 40). Thus, the influence of physical

and cultural environments contributes to differences in develop-

ment. Piaget concludes that "organic maturation is undoubtedly

a necessary factor and plays an indispensable role in the unvary-

ing order of succession ol the stages of the child's development,

but it does not explain all development and represents only one

factor among several" (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, pp. 154-5).

The second factor explaining development Piaget calls

"experience." He clarifies this in two ways. First, by ex-

perience he means acting upon physical objects. Ihus, this does

not include social experience. Secondly, he distinguishes two

types of experience: (a) physical experience, which is acting

upon objects to abstract their properties (e.g., seeing that

cherries are red or weighing two objects independently of volume),

and (b) logico-mathematical experience, which is acting upon


objects for the purpose of learning from the actions themselves

(p. 155). In other words, we learn through exposure to physical

objects themselves and through reflection on the actions we

perform on physical objects. Physical experience is experience

of the objects themselves, while logico-mathematical experience

is an experience of the actions of the subject upon an object.

Thus, for Piaget, experience is an equivocal idea and often is

confused, especially from a pedagogical point of view (Piaget,

1972, p. 41). Though both types of experience are necessary,

neither is sufficient for explaining development. A main reason

for this is because they omit social factors.

Thus, the third factor explaining development Piaget calls

"social transmission." This may take the form of intentional

education or more general social interaction. Piaget claims that

this iqain is a necessary but not sufficient factor. Social iza-

t ion i n1 olv eis ore thiin i L t t le rcce i v i n of ini fo r a L i on ifrom a

social source or agent. It also requires an active contribution

on the part of the one being socialized. As Piaget (1972) writes,

The child can receive valuable information
via language or via education directed by
an adult only if he is in a state where he
can understand this information. That is,
to receive the information he must have a
structure which enables him to ass imi late
this information. That is why you cannot
teach higher mathematics to a five-year
old. He does not yet have structures which
enable him to understand. (p. 42)

Piaget's fourth factor explaining development is equili-

bration. Equilibration is more than just another factor, how-

ever. It is the most fundamental one, the one that balances al


other factors, the one that best describes the mechanism of

development. Piaget's description of equilibration is worth

quoting in full.

An internal mechanism (though it cannot
be reduced to heredity alone and has no
pre-establ ished plan, since there is in
fact construction) is observable at the
time of each partial construction and
each transition from one stage to the
next. It is a process of equilibrium,
not in the sense of a simple balance of
forces, as in mechanics, or an increase
of entropy, as in thermodynamics, but
in the sense . of self-regulation;
that is, a series of active compensations
on the part of the subject in response to
external disturbances and an adjustment
that is both retroactive . and antici-
patory, constituting a permanent system
of compensation. (Piaget & Inhelder,
1969, p. 157)

Equilibration then is an active process of self-regulation or

adjustment where the subject, faced with a disturbance, tends

toward equilibrium by compensating through adaptation. In

encounters with the environment, a subject both can try to

assimilate external events into its cognitive structure or

accommodate to environmental events by modifying itself. When

in eq u ilibrium, this adaptive process is continuous without re-

quiring severe modifications of either subject or environment.

The subject is active, open, and in a state of relative harmony.

The equilibration process never stops, however; perfect equi-

librium is never achieved.

Equilibration works in a sequential manner.

This process takes the form of a succession
of levels of equilibrium. . There is a
sequence of levels. It is not possible to
reach the second level unless equilibrium has

~ _

been reached at the first level, and the
equilibrium of the third level only be-
comes possible when the equilibrium of
the second level has been reached, and so
forth. (Piaget, 1972, p. 42)

The order of equilibrium levels is not given a prior, bur

rather is a matter of sequential probabilities. 'That is, each

level is determined as the most probable given that the pre-

ceding level has been reached. It is not the most probable at

the beginning, but it is the most probable once the preceding

level has been reached" (p. 42).

Cognitive development, then, involves an active processing

of the environment in reference to the subject's existing cog-

nitive structure. Conflicts or disturbances are compensated for

by an active process of equilibration. As the child develops,

the motivating disturbances or disequilibria no longer must be

physical or material nor must they be compensated for by overt

action. In the higher stages of cognitive development, compenba-

tion via thought, is internal ized. Equilibration becomes a

matter of compensating for "vi rtual" rather than "actual" dis-

turbances (Piaget, 1967, p. 101). Disturbances can be antici-

pated and imagined and compensations rehearsed and corrected

for before they actually occur (p. 108). The process of equi-

librium governs the developmental process from the physical and

behavioral sensory-motor functions to the abstract, logical,

and internalized levels of thought.

Piaqet has attempted to describe how the equilibration

process actually works as the mechanism for development. He

describes this process as a continuing selection of "strategies"


chosen by the subject in the face of a disturbance, either

actual or virtual, such that the choice of adopting one strategy

will increase the probability of adopting the next, more satis-

fying, strategy, until a final strategy is chosen which secures

a more stable equilibrium. The choice of strategies leading to

equilibrium is governed by "a combined mechanism of least action

and sequential probability" (Piaget, 1960, p. 16). Strategies

for adaptation in the face of a disturbance or conflict will be

chosen that require the minimum amount of structural changes

' for the maximum amount of new information, or that furnish the -

maximum gain for the least loss (p. 17).

For example, one of the important advances in cognitive

development is the learning of the idea of conservation or the

understanding that certain properties of object (e.q., length,

quantity) remain the same d es pite certa i n stru cturl a or spatial

transformations A liter of water remain ns a l iter w whether in a

shallow, flat pan or a long, thin beaker. Suppose a subject is

shown a iter of water "changing shape" by being poured into

different types of containers as described above and asked

whether the amount (volume) of water remained the same (was

conserved). The subject could focus on height (A) of the water

or (B) width of the water's surface in a given beaker. The sub-

ject's field of focus then would be on a set (A or B). The

subject could also extend its field to consider both height and

width of the water column. This field would be set (A and B).

Or the subject could extend its field to one of relations between

height and width, noticing that changes in one yield changes in


the other as well. Here the field would be the set (AI and B )

height and width in beaker 1, (A2and B2); height and width in

beaker 2, and so on.

Piaget asserts that the development of the conservation of

volume can be explained through a four-step equilibration process

where each step is itself a dynamic equilibrium stage tending

toward more satisfying and instrumentally advantageous ways of

interacting with the world. In Step 1, the subject focuses or

"centrates" on one characteristic of the water in the beakers,

height or width. For example, it consistently centers on height

of the water and mistakenly concludes that volume is not conserved

when poured from one beaker into the other. Piaget argues that

this is the most probable beginning strategy because it is

simplest and requires the least effort. It is also a strategy,

however, which leads to an incorrect and inadequate understand-

ing of the situation. Thus, because of "a lack of satisfaction

about always using the same sol ution when i [ is not accompanied

by certainty" (Ginsburg & Opper, 1969, p. 174), or doubt, the

subject adopts another strategy.

In Step 2, the subject adopts the strategy of focusing on

the other major property, B, width of water in the beakers.

Strategy 2 obviously requires the least change from strategy I

merely focusing on the other property, and given that the field

of salient properties at this time is defined as A or B, strategy

2 seems to be the most probable correct solution. However, this

approach is also incorrect. Once again subjective dissatisfac-

tion, doubt, and conflict occur. It becomes clear that the


field A or B must be wrong since its possibilities have been

exhausted. The subject begins in Step 3 to vacillate between

A and B and expand the field of possibilities. However,

responses are still inconsistent and incorrect. The subject

sometimes focuses on height, sometimes on width. It is still

concentrating on these properties as static variables. However,

strategy 3 has constructive aspects which make development to

Step 4 more probable. By considering both A and B, the subject

begins to see the relationship between height and width and that

they are not independent, static properties, but rather change

in inverse proportion to each other.

The conflicts in strategy 3 lead to a concentration on

the transformation that occurs when water is poured from one

beaker to another, and relating the action of the two variables

to this transformation, strategy 4 then views height and width,

A and B, as interdependent properties that vary in precise pro-

portions when transformed. Conservation of volume and equilib-

rium is attained (Ginsburg & Opper, 1969, pp. 174-5). The sub-

ject has taken a step-by-step approach, modifying structure

cautiously and economically, motivated by doubt and contradic-

tions, to successively more adequate solutions. As Piaget

wr i tes.

The final equilibrium is consequently not
the most probable product a priori (at the
outset) but is the end result of a series
of reorganizations, each of which is the
most probable one after observation of the
failure of the preceding ones (a series of
feedbacks finally culminating in stable
equil ibrium). (Piaget, 1960, p. 17)


In summary, the process of development is conceived of

as a succession of structures coming into equilibrium. Though

physical, social, and experiential factors are all necessary for

development, they are not sufficient singly or together, apart

from an equilibration process. Piaget writes that "equilibrium

is a form (an equilibration, a structuration), but this form has

a content and this content can only be hereditary or acquired by

physical or social learning" (Piaget, in Tanner & Inhelder, 1960,

p. 82).

Equilibration is the general term for describing the entire

self-regulation process that goes on between the interaction and

adaptation of subject and object in development. Cognitive de-

velopment occurs through a progressive series of equilibria,

disequilibria, and re-equilibria accomplished by an interactive

organism wi th the tendency to organize cognitive structures and

adapt them to both external and internal disturbances, conflicts,

and contradictions.

Piaget's conception of the process or mechanism of develop-

ment has been described as an equilibrium-seeking model. Just as

important, however, for this educational study, is an analysis of

the conditions that promote development or equilibration.

Conditions of disequilibrium provide the motivation for

development, both cognitive and organic. Piaget writes that "ue

do not act unless we are imomentari ly in disequilibrium .

This schema is very general; no nutrition without alimentary needs;

no work without needs; no act of in ell igence without a question"

(PiageL, in Mischel, 19/1, 327).


An equilibrium system is one which is characterized by

some, at least momentary, balance among the forces acting upon

or within it. New forces or perturbations give rise to compensa-

tory actions which seek a return to an equ ii briulm state. The

entire process of cognitive development then "consists of reactions

of compensation to perturbation (relative to previous schemas)

which make necessary a variation of the initial schemas" (p. 326).

The general developmental conception is one of schema (equilib-

rium)-disequilibrium (perturbation)-adaptation (assimilation,

accommodation, equilibration)-new schema (re-equilibrium). There

is no development without the introduction of disequilibria.

Piaget writes.

an apparatus which solves problems by a
succession of approximations based on a
series of feedbacks shows in the most de-
cisive manner the part played by the con-
cepts of L i seCqu L i 1 i ri uI1 an d of p iru Ig le sive
equilibration. As long as there is dis-
equ il i br i um, i.e., while e the problem still
remains unsolved, a new negative feedback
is set off, whereas the attainment of the
correct solution is marked by the produc-
tion of a state of equilibrium. (Piaget,
1960, p. 9)

Though Piaget sometimes identifies disequilibrium with

"need," and calls need "the motive power for all activity"

(Pialet, 1952/1963, p. 44), his notion of need is not the same

as that found in many drive-reduction theorists. Need in these

theories is assumed to be an independent variable which is dis-

tinguishable from the behaviors it is alleged to explain (Mischel,

1971, p. 330). However, needs for Piaget are global or func-

tional and cannot be separated from the general adaptive process.


That is, need does not exist either in the subject or in the

environment or object, but rather in the situation defined by

the relation between an environmental event and the subject's

current cognitive structure (Kessen, 1971, p. 303). Piaget

identifies need with the awareness of momentary disequilibrium,

perturbations in the cognitive system, or more generally, as

cognitive conflict. As the child tried to adapt by assimilating

reality into its cognitive structures, problems arise and conflicts

are generated because of a mismatch between cognitive structure

and the "facts" of a situation (Piaget, 1930, passim). The child

is forced to transform old structures and adopt new strategies

in order to achieve a coherent and balanced relationship between

self and world. "Whatever resists assimilation to the child's

schemas generates cognitive conflict, and the child's recognition

of this 'disequil ibriunm' motivates him to resolve the conflict:

he accommodates his schemas in order to assimilate it" (Mischel,

1971, p. 331).

Cognitive conflict, understood as awareness of disequilib-

rium and the need for achieving an equilbrated cognitive con-

sistency, is the motivation for cognitive development. The moti-

vation for cognitive development then cannot be separated from

intellectual activity itself. The thinking subject is neither

"pushed" from within by instinctual body energies nor "pul led'

from without by the contingencies of external stimuli. Rather,

motivation and need are contained in and are almost synonomous

with the adaptive interactive process in which all cognitive and

organic activity takes place. In other words, the motivation


for learning cannot be separated from the learning process


What is learned depends on what the
learner can take from the given by
means of the cognitive structures
available to him, and what motivates
his learning are the cognitive dis-
equilibria . that arise when he
attempts to apply his schemas to the
given. (Michel, 1971, p. 332)

Development occurs when circumstances arise that do not permit

habitual behavior to continue without contradiction or errors.

In terms of the conservation of volume example earlier

used to illustrate equilibration (supra, pp. 81-83), it is the

failures and insufficiencies of one strategy which lead to the

adoption of new more equilibrated strategies. The subject was

aware that concentration on one characteristic was inadequate for

solving the conservation problem. This dissatisfaction led to

the next easiest solution, centrat ion on the other variable.

Continued errors brought about the progression to a next field

of focus, A and B, which was more satisfying, yet still produced

inconsistent responses and uncertainty. Finally, the last

strategy of considering the simultaneous transformation of both

properties achieved the correct solution, momentary equilibrium

was attained, and a conflict between subject and its world was


In summary, Piaget holds that the conditions that promote

and motivate development must be understood in terms of the

subject's need to resolve some cognitive conflict, perturbation,

or disequilibrium state which arises in the normal course of


trying to interact with the world in a more consistent, coherent,

and stable form. Cognitive development is the end result of a

series of operations beginning with cognitive disequilibrium or

conflict between new information and existing cognitive struc-

tures. This discrepancy motivates adaptive behavior, trans-

forming both the existing structure and the new event. This

conception of development, described as an equilibrating process

of adopting a series of strategies for coping in more consistent,

stable, and satisfying ways with cognitive conflicts or dis-

equilibria, characterizes the essential stage-independent aspects

of Piaget's developmental theory.

Comparison of Dewey and Piaget

Dewey's and Piaget's conceptions of development are highly

congruent. For both, intellectual or cognitive functioning

grows out of and parallels organic functioning and is character-

ized by the same processes and conditions.


Both Dewey and Piaget characterize organic development as

a process involving dynamic interaction of organism and environ-

ment. For Dewey, "every organic function is an interaction of

intra-organic and extra-organic energies" (Dewey, 1938, p. 25).

Piaget describes "the fundamental reality about living things"

as a continuous process of regulation between disequilibrium and

equilibrium and writes that "anyone who sees . a belief in

the systematic primacy of one or the other of these factors will

have failed to understand me, my central idea being constantly

that of interaction" (Piaget, 1971, p. 348). Interaction

between organism and environment is such that both are

affected and transformed.

For Dewey, intellectual development is continuous with

organic development and is also characterized by subject-

environment interaction. "Knowing" is not passive acceptance

of environmental demands nor the emergence of inner truths, but

rather an active reconstruction of the subject-environment re-

lation. Inquiry is "described as behavior in which organism and

environment act together, or inter-act" (Dewey, 1938, p. 33).

Inquiry involves the interaction of mental demand and material

supply, where interaction "assigns equal rights to both factors

in experience--objective and internal conditions" (Dewey, 1938/

1944, p. 38).

For Piaget, like Dewey, "knowing" is an active process.

Knowledge does not come from passive acceptance of external

stimuli nor from some inner, unfolding source, but rather through

interaction with an envi ronment Knowledge is a continuous recon-

struction, a discovery and formation of new structures which are

progressively more adequate for understanding the world (Piaget,

1970, p. 77, 15). One knows an object by acting upon it (Piaget,

1972, p. 38). Humans do not live in an environment; they live

with and by means of an environment, and each is transformed in

the process of cognitive development. For Piaget,

Although we cannot at present fix with
any certainty the boundary between the
contribution of the mind's structural
maturation and that of the child 's in-
dividual expe ience or the influence

exerted by his physical and social environ-
ment, it does nevertheless seem that we
should accept both that these two factors
are constantly at work and that development
is a product of their continuous inter-
action. (Piaget, 1970b, pp. 172-3)


Due to their emphasis on development through interaction,

both Dewey and Piaget stress that interaction between organism

and environment is such that both are effected and transformed.

Dewey distinguishes among the forms of this mutually-effecting or

reciprocating interaction in terms of accommodation, adaptation,

and adjustment. Accommodation is a specific process involving

the modification of our own activities in response to particular

external events. Adaptation is the specific process of modifying

external events and conditions to meet our particular needs and

purposes. Accommodation and adaptation in combination make up

the more general process of adjustment which refers to a more en-

during and global modification of our whole being (Dewey, 1934b,

pp. 15-6). This adjusting process characterizes all interaction

between subject and environment and is the basis for organic and

intellectual development. New readjustments do not just preserve

life, but rather extend it. Adjustment, through accommodation

and adaptation, brings about a change in organism, environment,

and their relation, which enables the organism to further its own

existence. Inquiry and thinking also involve a readjustment of

the subject-environment relation in which both inquirer and the

object or inquiry are modified. A new, more adequately adjusted

relation subject and environment is created, derived from, but

not identical to, the prior state of settled adjustment.


Piaget distinguishes among the forms of interacting

with the world in the same basic ways and they function simi-

larly in his account of development, though he uses different

terms. For Piaget, adaptation refers to the general process of

interacting with the world so as to produce enduring organismic

modifications that will "increase the possibility of further

transactions occurring which are favorable to the preservation of

the organism" (Piaget, 1952/1963, p. 5). Adaptation can be

separated into two complementary processes: assimilation and

accommodation. Assimilation involves the modification of environ

mental events or objects in order for them to be incorporated

into the existing organic structure. The process of modifying

the organism or organic structures in response to environmental

factors is accommodation.

For Piaget, like Dewey, organism-environment transactions

are only adaptive to the degree to which they modify the or-

ganism in such a way as to i icrcase the possii cities of pre-

serving and extending lile (Piaqet, 1952/1963, p. 5). Adapta-

tion creates new or modified structures that further extend the

possibilities of interaction. "Life is a continuous creation of

increasingly complex forms and a progressive balancing of these

forms with an environment" (p. 3).

Assimilation, accommodation, and adaptation have the same

basic functions in cognitive development as they do in an or-

ganic development. The subject accommodates or makes changes in

its existing cognitive organization in response to new events or


experiences and assimilates environmental stimuli by active

modification of them in light of its existing cognitive organi-

zation. Thus, subject, environment, and their relation are

modified and readapted to a new state of adaptive equilibrium

derived from, but not identical with, prior states.

Thus, though different terms are used, accommodation,

adaptation, and adjustment for Dewey refer to essentially the

same varieties of organism-environment interaction as accommo-

dation, assimilation, and adaptation for Piaget. Adjustment

for Dewey and adaptation for Piaget, in both organic and in-

tellectual development, denotes an active, mutually-effecting or

reconstructive process of organism-environment interaction.


The idea of balance or equilibrium is central to both

Dewey's and Piaget's conceptions of development. For Dewey, with

a variety of interactions comes a "need of maintaining a balance

among them" (Dewey, 1938, p. 26). What is needed is some sensi-

tive "mei chanism that responds to both variations that occLI wi thi in

the organism and in surroundings" (p. 26). This mechanism should

serve to integrate modifications brought about through inter-

actions into a "fairly uniform environment" (p. 26). When

balance is disturbed, there is an organismic "need" which must

be satisfied. A search ensues until conditions of balance are,

at least temporarily, restored. This continual organism-environ-

mental interaction oscillates between periods of balance or equi-

librium and imbalance or disequilibrium. For Dewey, "living may

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