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THE CONCEPT OF EQUILIBRATION

I N P I A G E T ' S THEORY OF
COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

by

MARGARET RUTH SUTTON


B.A., S e a t t l e University, 1974

THESIS SUBMITTED I N P A R T I A L FULFILLMENT


THE R E Q U I R E M E N T S FOR THE DEGREE OF
M A S T E R OF A R T S

in

THE F A C U L T Y OF GRADUATE STUDIES


(FOUNDATIONS OF E D U C A T I O N )

We accept this thesis as conforming


to the required standard

THE U N I V E R S I T Y OF B R I T I S H C O L U M B I A
April, 1978

Margaret Ruth Sutton


In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s thesis in p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t o f the requirements f o r

an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree that

the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t freely available for reference and study.

I f u r t h e r agree t h a t p e r m i s s i o n f o r e x t e n s i v e copying o f t h i s thesis

f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or

by h i s representatives. It i s understood that copying or p u b l i c a t i o n

of this thesis for financial gain s h a l l not be allowed without my

written permission.

Depa rtment

The U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Columbia
2075 Wesbrook P l a c e
V a n c o u v e r , Canada
V6T 1W5
ABSTRACT

Many p h i l o s o p h e r s and p s y c h o l o g i s t s have questioned the

meaning and/or function of the concept o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n i n

Piaget's theory o f c o g n i t i v e development. I t i s argued

here that a) the concept of e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s distinct

from other, similar concepts i n Piaget's theory b) that

the particular character of equilibration as a mechanism o f

self-regulation allows Piaget t o account f o r the differences

between b i o l o g i c a l and c o g n i t i v e s t r u c t u r e s and c) that

equilibration i s therefore a fruitful concept i n Piaget's

theory of cognitive development.

C h a p t e r s One t o T h r e e are a presentation o f the problem,

and a synopsis of Piaget's theory of genetic epistemology

and model o f o r g a n i c structures. Chapter Five lays out

the criteria by which equilibration c o u l d be s a i d t o be a

fruitful concept. Chapters S i x to Eight examine the role

which equilibration plays i n Piaget's theory. In Chapter

Nine, i ti s concluded that equilibration i s a fruitful

concept i n Piaget's theory, a n d some g e n e r a l points about

the theory are discussed.


LEAF i i i OMITTED IN PAGE NUMBERING.
iv

ACKNOWLE DGEMEN TS

I would like t o t h a n k my t h e s i s committee,


Drs. Jerrold Coombs, L e R o i Daniels, and
Gaalen E r i c k s o n as w e l l as o t h e r faculty
members, p a r t i c u l a r l y D r . P a t r i c i a Arlin,
for their c r i t i c i s m s and suggestions.
Warm t h a n k s also t o t h e many department
members, e s p e c i a l l y Shirley Packinson
and Andy G i n g e r a , who h a v e p r o v i d e d counsel
and encouragement throughout the writing
process, and t o S h e i l a g h C r a n d a l l , for her
assistance i npreparing the final copy.
T A B L E OF CONTENTS

L I S T OF C H A R T S ' ' ' ' P a


g e

I. STATEMENT OF THE P R O B L E M 1
a) Questions Concerning E q u i l i b r a t i o n 2
b) Methods o f Approach 2

II. O V E R V I E W OF P I A G E T ' S THEORY OF COGNITIVE


DEVELOPMENT 4
a) F a c t o r s o f Development ' 5
b) Equilibration 7

III. STRUCTURALISM 8
a) Properties of Structures 9
b) Functioning of a Structure 14

IV. A P P L I C A T I O N OF S T R U C T U R A L I S M TO COGNITIVE
DEVELOPMENT 15
a) Structuralist Explanation of Cognitive ,
Development 16
b) T r a n s i t i o n From B i o l o g i c a l t o C o g n i t i v e
Functioning 17

V. E Q U I L I B R A T I O N AS A HYPOTHETICAL CONSTRUCT 19
a) Meaning 20
b) Fruitfulness 21

VI. B I O L O G I C A L AND C O G N I T I V E S E L F - R E G U L A T I O N 22
a) S e l f - r e g u l a t i o n by F u n c t i o n i n g 24
b) Regulation and C o g n i t i v e S t r u c t u r e s 27

VII. C O N S T R U C T I O N OF C O G N I T I V E STRUCTURES 31
a) Meaning o f Cognitive E q u i l i b r a t i o n 34
b) Mechanisms o f S e l f - r e g u l a t i o n 37

VIII. A C C O U N T I N G FOR C O G N I T I V E DEVELOPMENT BY THE


CONCEPT OF E Q U I L I B R A T I O N 43
a) Construction of Logico-mathematical-
Structures 44
b) Language o f E q u i l i b r a t i o n 47

IX. F R U I T F U L N E S S OF THE CONCEPT OF E Q U I L I B R A T I O N 49


a) E q u i l i b r a t i o n and P i a g e t ' s Organic Model 50
b) V e r i f i c a b i l i t y o f the Concept o f
Equilibration 54
FOOTNOTES
BIBLIOGRAPHY
L I S T OF CHARTS

Page
CHART 1 39

CHART 2 40
1

I. S T A T E M E N T OF THE PROBLEM

"Equilibration" i s a word which has become increasingly

prominent i n P i a g e t ' s work. At t h e same t i m e , i t i s not

easy to t e l l from h i s works j u s t what e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s . He

speaks of "equilibration factors o f action"" ", 1


"equilibration
2 3
laws" , "equilibration processes" and the "mechanism of
4
equilibration".

Various psychologists and philosophers have commented upon

equilibration, also i n diverse terms. Furth speaks of

equilibration as "...a regulatory and organizing factor


5

within evolutionary development"-. Mischel proposes that

equilibration be considered as "...an a n a l y s i s or rational

reconstruction o f how we think i n accordance with the norms


6

that govern directed thinking." Elkind, in his introduction

to S i x P s y c h o l o g i c a l S t u d i e s , says that:
The p r i n c i p l e o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n w h i c h r e g u l a t e s
the i n t e r a c t i o n o f s o c i a l and m a t u r a t i o n a l factors
is essentially dialectical i n nature.'

Perhaps the questions surrounding equilibration are best

summed u p b y Flavell, when he says:

I am e v e n u n c l e a r a s t o e x a c t l y w h a t p h e n o m e n o n g
e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s and i s n o t supposed t o d e n o t e .
2

a) Questions Concerning Equilibration

Since equilibration i s a hypothetical construct in Piaget's

theory, there are several questions involved i n examining

its meaning. The first question i s "What d o e s P i a g e t mean

by 'equilibration'?" Related to this question, we also

w a n t t o k n o w how equilibration operates i n Piaget's theory.

And because, i t w i l l be argued, equilibration i s meant to

explain or describe certain features of cognitive develop-

m e n t , we will also ask whether e q u i l i b r a t i o n is a fruitful

concept f o r these purposes.

b) Method of Approach

Equilibration is a particularly theory dependent concept.

It i s defined i n terms o f the theory of which i t is a part,

which Piaget calls "genetic epistemology". The purpose of

the concept of equilibration i s to add to the account of

development provided by genetic epistemology. Further, the

reasons for believing that there i s a mechanism of equili-

bration are derived from the theoretical body.

Equilibration, then, c a n n o t be isolated from the theory of

which i t i s a part. I t s m e a n i n g m u s t somehow be clarified

in terms o f the role which i t plays i n Piaget's account of

cognitive development. For this reason, Chapters Two through


3

Four w i l l be devoted t o a b r i e f e x p o s i t i o n of Piaget's

theory o f cognitive development. C h a p t e r Two w i l l be an

overview, focusing on t h e f a c t o r s of cognitive development.

In Chapter Three we w i l l look at structuralism, asking what

Piaget means b y a s t r u c t u r e . Chapter Four w i l l be an account

of structuralism applied to cognitive development. Here we

want t o e s t a b l i s h what P i a g e t i s explaining about cognitive

development, a n d how h e p u r p o r t s t o do s o .

In C h a p t e r F i v e , we w i l l turn to the question o f what i t

would mean f o r e q u i l i b r a t i o n t o be a f r u i t f u l concept i n

Piaget's theory. Determining the f r u i t f u l n e s s of equili-

bration depends i n large part o n e s t a b l i s h i n g how equili-.

bration differs from other regulatory mechanisms, and t h e

reasons f o rbelieving that i tdoes are seen i n the d i f f e r -

ences between c o g n i t i v e structures and b i o l o g i c a l s t r u c t u r e s .

So, i n Chapter S i x we w i l l look a t d i f f e r e n t mechanisms o f

self-regulation, and i n Chapter Seven, a t t h e way i n w h i c h

cognitive structures are constructed. In Chapter Eight, we

will a s k how a p a r t i c u l a r mechanism o f the s o r t that Piaget :

describes accounts f o rthe construction of logico-mathematical

structures. Finally, i n C h a p t e r N i n e , we w i l l discuss

whether the concept o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s f r u i t f u l to Piaget's

theory.
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II. OVERVIEW OF PIAGET'S THEORY OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, the

subject passes through three levels of cognitive development -

sensori-motor, pre-operational, and c o n c r e t e operational -

before reaching the f i n a l stage, o f formal operational

thinking. By " s t a g e " Piaget does n o t means g r o u p s o f a c t i o n

c h a r a c t e r i z e d by some theme, as does F r e u d , f o r example.

Rather, Piaget puts forth three conditions f o r c a l l i n g some-

thing a stage o f c o g n i t i v e development:

. . . f i r s t , the s e r i e s of actions i s constant...


second, each s t a g e i s d e t e r m i n e d n o t m e r e l y by
a dominant p r o p e r t y , b u t by a whole s t r u c t u r e w h i c h
characterizes a l l further actions that belong to
t h i s stage t h i r d . . . these s t r u c t u r e s o f f e r a process
o f i n t e g r a t i o n s u c h t h a t e a c h one i s p r e p a r e d b y t h e
p r e c e d i n g one and i n t e g r a t e d i n t o t h e one t h a t f o l l o w s . -

The first condition says t h a t the order o f the stages i s

invariable, although t h e age a t w h i c h e a c h s t a g e i s attained

can vary according to the i n d i v i d u a l . The s e c o n d condition

is that a s t a g e c o n s t i t u t e a s t r u c t u r e d whole ( t h e r e w i l l be

a d i s c u s s i o n , below, o f P i a g e t ' s meaning o f " s t r u c t u r e " ) .

The third condition gives Piaget's definition o f development.

D e v e l o p m e n t i s more t h a n a change f r o m one o r g a n i z a t i o n t o


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another; the c h a n g e m u s t be a re-organization of the previous

structure, so that the new structure includes a l l that went

before i t . Each stage i s a necessary condition f o r the next,

with biological organization providing the initial conditions

for sensori-motor structures, I n h i s many observational

studies of children's thought, Piaget makes t h e case that

there i s a process of cognitive development, which proceeds

through stages of the s o r t t h a t he defines. His observation

that c h i l d r e n go through particular stages of cognitive

d e v e l o p m e n t , and that the order of these stages does not vary,

have been c o r r a b o r a t e d by other researchers.

a) Factors of Cognitive Development

Piaget has named f o u r factors which determine cognitive

development; maturation, physical experience, social experi-

ence, and equilibration. Maturation i s the unfolding of

predetermined s t r u c t u r e s , i . e . growth and development

necessitated by the individual's genetic code. Physical

experience refers to experience of a more o r less individual

nature, t h o u g h many o f the experiences are common t o a l l

people. Included w o u l d be such actions as manipulation of

objects and movement t h r o u g h space. Social experience is

the i n t e r a c t i o n of the individual with her social environ-

ment, i . e . the intersubjective world.


6

These first three' f a c t o r s , taken either independently o r

in sum, do n o t e x p l a i n the universality and i n v a r i a n c e o f

cognitive development. There i s to begin with the d i f f i -

culty o f s e p a r a t i n g them f r o m each.other, i n order to deter-

mine their unique contributions. Even i f i t were possible

to do s o , t h r o u g h advances i n technology and formalization/

the question would n o t be a n s w e r e d . I t i s unlikely that

maturation alone can account forindividual differences,

e.g., i n t h e speed o f development. The v a r i e t i e s o f

physical and s o c i a l experiences o f each individual make them

unlikely explanations f o ra process common to a l l individuals.

And, i fa l l three factors taken together are to explain

cognitive development, there i s s t i l l t h e q u e s t i o n o f how

they relate t o each other, i . e . , determining their respective

contributions to the process.

Because the c l a s s i c a l factors fail t o account f o r cognitive

development, P i a g e t p o s t u l a t e s a fourth factor, equilibration.

Equilibration: enables us t o determine the roles of the other

three factors i n cognitive development, and t o account f o r

the pattern o f cognitive development. Equilibration processes,

Piaget argues,are intrinsic t o human l i f e , and i n t h a t sense,

hereditary. They are process of internal regulation, which

determine the effects of experience on c o g n i t i v e development.

The existence of internal regulations of the sort d e f i n e d as

"equilibration" account f o rthe particular process o f develop-

ment which P i a g e t has observed.


7

b) Equilibration

Equilibration i s a process of achieving equilibrium.

Equilibrium is a s t a t e of balance. What a r e somehow balanced,

in Piaget's system, are structures. Structures are a parti-

cular kind of organization. /Among o t h e r characteristics,

structures are by definition dynamic. They are properly

understood i n terms of their processes of formation and

maintenance, rather than in their states. The processes of

formation and maintenance are g u i d e d by internal mechanisms

of regulation. E q u i l i b r a t i o n i s the internal regulatory

mechanism which determines cognitive development.

In order to u n d e r s t a n d how equilibration regulates cognitive

d e v e l o p m e n t , we m u s t know w h a t P i a g e t considers t o be cognition.

One of the c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of cognition i s that i t is active.

Piaget claims both conceptual and empirical links between

cognition or k n o w i n g , and activity or action. On the

empirical plane, he points out that the organism i s biologi-

cally a c t i v e , never simply a receptor of environmental

stimuli, and asks:

B u t a r e we t o b e l i e v e t h a t a n o r g a n i s m w h i c h i s
a c t i v e a t every s t a g e of growth s h o u l d , upon
reaching the apex of i t s development, become^
a mere s l a v i s h i m i t a t o r o f i t s s u r r o u n d i n g s ? -'

We do not merely receive or react to our environment, we


8

interact with i t , c o g n i t i v e l y as w e l l as biologically-.

On the conceptual level, Piaget claims that t o know some-

thing always implies activity o f some sort: "...any piece

of knowledge i s connected with an a c t i o n . . . t o know an object

or happening i s t o make use o f i t by a s s i m i l a t i o n i n t o an

action schemata".^"'"" Action c a n mean anything from a physical

activity such as removing the cover from a hidden object,

to the mental activity of cognitive organization, such as

assimilating new information into pre-existing schemata.

Cognition i s always a c t i v e because knowing always involves

some type o f o r g a n i z a t i o n .

Equilibration regulates structural activity i n two ways.

First, i tdetermines the form that cognitive organization

takes, a t each stage of cognitive development. The f o r m o f

organization i n turn determines the activity possible.

Second, e q u i l i b r a t i o n regulates the effects of s t r u c t u r a l

activity on the s t r u c t u r e s . This point w i l l be elaborated

in Chaper Six. In both cases, regulation i s a process of

establishingja balance between repeating an e x t a n t form o f

action, o r s t r u c t u r e , and modifying structure.


s

III. STRUCTURALISM

Piaget sees cognitive development, t h e n , as a p r o c e s s o f


9

structural development. He uses b i o l o g i c a l structures as

the source o f a model w i t h which to understand cognition.

The applicability of this model t o c o g n i t i o n r e s t s on two

points: 1) t h a t we can i d e n t i f y structures of cognitive

activity which are analogous to organic structures and 2)

that these structures originate in biological activity. The

latter point will be t a k e n up i n Chapter Four (b). In this

c h a p t e r , we. w i l l look at the properties and functioning of

structures based on such an o r g a n i c model.

a) Properties of Structures

A structure i s a dynamic entity, whose components can change,

but which remains organized throughout such changes. Piaget

says:

We s h a l l d e f i n e s t r u c t u r e i n t h e b r o a d e s t p o s s i b l e
sense as a system which p r e s e n t s the laws o r p r o -
p e r t i e s o f a t o t a l i t y s e e n a s a s y s t e m . 12

The three properties of structures are wholeness, trans-

formation and self-regulation.

Wholeness refers n o t t o t h e sum of the p a r t s , but to the

relationship of the parts with each other. Four line segments

do n o t make a s q u a r e ; f o u r equal line segments joined at

right angles at their e n d p o i n t s do. The particular line

segments a r e not n e c e s s a r i l y related to the structure of a


10

square. I t i s their relationship with each other, i . e . ,

equality of length and j o i n i n g at right angles, that consti-

tute the structure. These r e l a t i o n s h i p s a r e t h e "laws o f

composition" of a square.

The example o f a square i s s l i g h t l y misleading i n that Piaget

is speaking of "larger" structures, structural systems. :The

example i s used to point out that i t i s the laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n

which define a structure. These laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n n o t o n l y

determine the r e l a t i o n s h i p of the parts, but: "...they confer

on the whole as such o v e r a l l properties distinct from the


13

properties of the elements". Piaget uses t h e example o f

integers, which are necessarily ordered. This ordering

confers on i n t e g e r s as a whole structural properties, such

as reciprocity, which are distinct from the properties of

individual integers, such as evenness o r oddness. Since a

structure consists o f i t s laws of composition, rather than

simply i t s elements, wholeness i s a property o f the laws.

"Wholeness" thus i s primarily contrasted to "aggregation".

The wholeness of a structure also includes the a b i l i t y of

the laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n t o cope w i t h o r compensate f o r

"intrusions" upon i t , o r changes i n the environment of the

structure. Thus r a t h e r than being complete or incomplete,

a structure i s more o r l e s s "adequate" or "stable". A

structure i s i n a state o f e q u i l i b r i u m when, w i t h o u t trans-


11

formation of i t s compositional laws, i t can maintain itself

against intrusions. This e q u i l i b r i u m m u s t be dynamic, since

it i s always subject t o new disturbances from the environment.

The second property of structures i s transformation. Piaget

speaks of transformation i n two related senses. First, i t

is a property o f s t r u c t u r e s to "transform" portions of the

e n v i r o n m e n t by structural activity. This simply means that

structures incorporate e x t e r n a l elements into themselves.

For example, the d i g e s t i v e system "transforms" a piece of

bread into carbohydrates, fatty a c i d s , and amino acids.

Besides transforming the environment, s t r u c t u r e s have a pro-

perty of transforming themselves. By this P i a g e t means that

the laws of composition can change. For example, i f we treat

the historical development o f mathematics on an organic model,

we see that the system of rational numbers c a n n o t incorporate

the relationship of the hypotenuse of an isosceles right

triangle to i t s sides. Since the rational number s y s t e m can-

not incorporate this relationship, something which i s not a

rational number, and which can express this relationship is

created, the irrational number. The compositional laws of

the entire number s y s t e m change w i t h the i n t r o d u c t i o n of

irrational numbers, e.g., numbers can now incorporate infinite

processes. Note that within this organic model, the compo-

sitional laws are never falsified or destroyed in transfor-

mation; the "untransformed" l a w s become a s u b s e t of the "new"


12

laws of composition.

These two senses of transformation are conceptually related

by d e f i n i t i o n of the laws of composition. The laws of

composition determine the kinds of elements which can be

incorporated into the s t r u c t u r e . The laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n

also contain the p o t e n t i a l f o r t h e i r transformation.

T h e s e l a w s m u s t o f t h e i r v e r y n a t u r e be
s t r u c t u r i n g . . . a s t r u c t u r e ' s laws are defined
' i m p l i c i t l y ' i . e . , as g o v e r n i n g t h e t r a n s - 1 4

formations of the system which they s t r u c t u r e .

Because the mechanism f o r transformation of compositional

laws is implicit to the laws, t h i s kind of transformation

is called self-transformation.

The idea of self-transforming laws does n o t l e a d to an

infinite regress. Some s t r u c t u r e must e x i s t i n o r d e r to even

talk of compositional laws. Life implies organization, and

therefore structure. In the case o f c o g n i t i v e structures,

Piaget takes the b i o l o g i c a l l y determined organism, the

genotype, as the s t r u c t u r e c o n s t i t u t i n g the laws o f compos-

tion from which cognitive structures are formed.

It i s the t h i r d property of structures, s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n ,

which determines that changes i n a structure constitute

development, rather t h a n some h a p h a z a r d series of trans-

formations. Self-regulation, Piaget states, entails self-


13

maintenance and closure. Together, these properties provide

that "the transformations inherent i n a structure never lead

beyond the system but always engender elements that belong


15

to i t and preserve xts laws". Self-regulation is first of

all conservative. In the face of environmental intrusions,

including decay over time, the wholeness of a structure i s

maintained by self-regulation. For example, where the left

hemisphere of the b r a i n has b e e n d a m a g e d , some o f i t s func-

tions are taken o v e r by the right hemisphere. The brain

brings p r e v i o u s l y unused circuits into play i n order to con--;

serve total functioning.

By maintaining the organization of a structure, self-regulation

provides f o r the development of new and more a d a p t i v e struc-

tures. Transformation provides the p o t e n t i a l f o r new construc-

tions; self-regulation incorporates these new constructions

into the existing structure. By r e i n t e g r a t i n g new structures

into the original structure, self-regulation is constructive.

If, f o r e x a m p l e , an individual acquired a system of irrational

numbers t h a t r e m a i n e d independent from a system of rational


,.y'

numbers, the number s y s t e m w o u l d not have undergone development,

although we could certainly say that a new s t r u c t u r e had been

constructed. For the new s t r u c t u r e t o be incorporated into the

old, the o l d s t r u c t u r e m u s t be reorganized to enable i t to

encompass p r o p e r t i e s o f b o t h structures. This i s how self-

regulation i s c o n s t r u c t i v e beyond the limits of transformation.

In regulating transformations, self-regulation constructs

structures with differentiated substructures.


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b) Functioning of a Structure

Piaget describes f u n c t i o n i n terms o f the i n h e r e n t action

tendency of a s t r u c t u r e . F o r example:

F u n c t i o n i s the a c t i o n e x e r t e d by t h e f u n c t i o n i n g
o f a s u b s t r u c t u r e on t h a t o f a t o t a l s t r u c t u r e ,
w h e t h e r t h e l a t t e r be i t s e l f a s u b s t r u c t u r e c o n -
t a i n i n g the former o f the s t r u c t u r e of the e n t i r e
organism. 0

There a r e two m a j o r c a t e g o r i e s o f o r g a n i c functions: adap-

tation, w h i c h c a n be divided into assimilation and accommo-

dation, and o r g a n i z a t i o n . When a d i s t u r b a n c e i s compensated

for by r e p e t i t i o n o f an e x t a n t pattern or substructure, this

is called assimilation. The disturbance i s subsumed by the

structure. I n h a l i n g i s an example o f a b i o l o g i c a l a s s i m i l a t o r y

function. The lungs, which are a substructure of the total

organism, respond to a disturbance, i n this case, an internal

need. By repeating the coordinated action of inhaling, the

lungs compensate f o r lack of oxygen i n the blood stream by

bringing i t into the system. Accommodation i s the reverse of

assimilation, where a disturbance t o t h e s t r u c t u r e i s compen-

sated f o r by a l t e r a t i o n i n a substructure. I t w o u l d be nice

to say t h a t e x h a l i n g i s an example o f accommodation, b u t i t

is not. Accommodation i s a change i n assimilation structures

in response to the environment. Piaget provides an example:


15

. . . i n an i n f a n t o f f i v e o r s i x months o l d , t h e
s e i z i n g o f t h i n g s by b o t h h a n d s i s an a s s i m i l a t i o n
schemata, but the s t r e t c h i n g out or b r i n g i n g nearer
o f t h e h a n d s a c c o r d i n g t o w h e t h e r an o b j e c t , i s n e a r
o r f a r i s an a c c o m m o d a t i o n o f t h a t schema.17

The second category of organic functioning is called

organization. Whereas a d a p t a t i o n functions operate on the

Structure's-environment, organization functions operate on

the structure itself:

...of a f u n c t i o n may b e s a i d t o b e t h e a c t i o n
exerted by the f u n c t i o n i n g o f a s u b s t r u c t u r e on
that of t h e t o t a l s t r u c t u r e . . . o r g a n i z a t i o n as a
function i s the a c t i o n of t h e . e n t i r e functioning
on t h a t of the substructures.18^

Both types of functioning are mechanisms of s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n .

Adaptation functions maintain structural integrity in the

face of environmental intrusions. Organization functions

maintain structural organization when i t i s t h r e a t e n e d by

internal disturbances. These "internal


:
disturbances" are

the aftermath of accommodations. An accommodation constructs

a new substructure. The new substructure m u s t be either

reintegrated i n t o the original structure, or lost. This

reintegration i s the organizing function.

IV. A P P L I C A T I O N OF S T R U C T U R A L I S M TO COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

Discussion of an organizing function raises a question which

pervades Piaget's works. In this case, i t is "Which comes


16

first, organization of structures, or organizing functions?"

In more g e n e r a l terms, the question i s , "Are structures a

product of functioning, or are functions a product of

structures?" It is first of a l l apparent that there cannot,

by definition, be functioning without a structure. At the

same t i m e , structures cease to exist without functioning.

Functioning, above a l l , m a i n t a i n s or conserves structure.

Piaget's essential hypothesis i s 'that, i n the activity of

conserving structure, functions are constructive. If this

is so, the formation of new structures i s d e t e r m i n e d by the

functioning of (temporally) prior structures. Since func-

tions are mechanisms of s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n , the particular way

in which a function regulates i s a key determinant of the

structures which can be constructed.

a) S t r u c t u r a l i s t Explanation of Cognitive Development

In the area of cognitive development, Piaget wishes to

explain the construction of logico-mathematical structures.

Two aspects of this construction m u s t be explained, the

process and the result. In the first c a s e , we wish to

account for the universal and i n v a r i a n t sequence of develop-

ment. In the second c a s e , w h a t m u s t be accounted for are

the special structural properties of logico-mathematical

structures.
17

These q u e s t i o n s are c o n n e c t e d by the hypothesis that

functioning constructs new structures. The distinct charac-

ter of operational t h o u g h t can be explained i n terms of

cognitive functioning. Cognitive functioning can be thought

of i n terms of its similarities to and differences from

biological functioning. These s i m i l a r i t i e s and differences

are explained by equilibration, the internal regulatory

mechanism of cognitive functioning.

Piaget claims that cognitive structures develop in like

manner t o , and continously from, b i o l o g i c a l structures:

"...intelligence constitutes an organizing activity whose

functioning extends that of the biological organization,

while surpassing i t due to the elaboration of new structures"."

The key to the argument f o r the continuity from biological

to cognitive structures i s the generalization of functions.

Initial biological organization provides functioning.

Functional generalization elaborates upon p r i o r structures,

creating specialized structures which in turn provide

increasingly specialized functioning.

b) T r a n s i t i o n From B i o l o g i c a l to Cognitive Functioning

Piaget maintains that his model of biological functioning

is more t h a n a metaphor by which to understand cognitive

development. Cognitive functioning, he maintains, is an


18

extension of biological functioning. I n The O r i g i n s of


20

Intelligence, Piaget traces the development o f the first

cognitive structures, from r e f l e x e s programmed by biological

regulations. Repetition and c o o r d i n a t i o n of reflex functioning

form schemata f o rh a b i t s . As t h e s e h a b i t s are r e f i n e d by

functioning, the p o s s i b i l i t i e s f o r formation of "truly

cognitive" structures are increased.

Piaget defines cognitive activity as i n t e n t i o n a l a c t i o n ,

action which d i s t i n g u i s h e s b e t w e e n means a n d e n d s . He states

that i ti s d i f f i c u l t t o draw a c l e a r l i n e between p r i m i t i v e

forms o f i n t e n t i o n a l a c t i o n and b i o l o g i c a l l y determined

actions but:

I n p r a c t i c e , we c a n a c k n o w l e d g e . . . t h a t i n t e n t i o n a l
a d a p t a t i o n b e g i n s as soon as t h e c h i l d transcentds
the l e v e l o f simple c o r p o r a l a c t i v i t i e s (sucking,
l i s t e n i n g and making sounds, l o o k i n g and grasping)
and a c t s upon t h i n g s and uses t h e i n t e r r e l a t i o n s h i p s
of o b j e c t s . 2 1

In h i s accounts o f the t r a n s i t i o n from b i o l o g i c a l to cognitive

functioning, h e f o c u s e s m o r e o n how this transition occurs,

e.g., describing the transition i n structuralist terms, than

why i to c c u r s , e.g., what cause the transition. Briefly

stated, the i n c r e a s i n g l y complex adaptations, providing a

series of functions t o a t t a i n one e n d , " b r i n g attention to"

the d i f f e r e n c e b e t w e e n means a n d e n d s .
19

A series of increasingly complex adaptations of instinctive

functioning lead to the "bursting of instinct", which i s the

creation of structures which a r e not m a i n t a i n e d by programmed,

or g e n e t i c a l l y determined, functioning. Instead, the

structures of cognition a r e m a i n t a i n e d by i n t e r n a l mechanisms

of self-regulation. Cognitive functioning does n o t destroy

or replace biological functioning, but extends i t :

What v a n i s h e s w i t h t h e b u r s t i n g o f i n s t i n c t i s
e x c l u s i v e l y the c e n t r a l o r median p a r t , that i s ,
t h e programmed r e g u l a t i o n , w h e r e a s t h e o t h e r two
realities persist: the source of organization
and t h e r e s u l t a n t s o f i n d i v i d u a l o r p h e n o t y p i c .
adjustment. T h u s i n t e l l i g e n c e d o e s i n h e r i t some-
t h i n g from i n s t i n c t a l t h o u g h i t r e j e c t s i t s method
o f programmed r e g u l a t i o n i n f a v o u r o f c o n s t r u c t i v e -
autoregulations. 2 2

The mechanism o f c o n s t r u c t i v e autoregulation, i s what Piaget

calls equilibration.

V. EQUILIBRATION AS A H Y P O T H E T I C A L CONSTRUCT

In light of the previous sections, we c a n now formulate a

general definition of equilibration: e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s the

mechanism o f c o g n i t i v e self-regulation. As a s t r u c t u r a l

self-regulatory mechanism, i tb o t h conserves structural

organization, and c o n s t r u c t s new structures. While i t has

its early origins i n biological functioning, equilibration

must t r a n s c e n d the limits of merely regulating structures.


20

Functioning o f c o g n i t i v e \st"rucjbures;;must b e c a p a b l e of not

only responding to the environment, but adapting to i t . That

is, the notion o f growth o r t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n of cognitive

structures c a n n o t be l i m i t e d t o t h e i n n a t e potential contained

within g e n e t i c a l l y given structures themselves, as i s t h e

case w i t h biological structures. So, e q u i l i b r a t i o n d i f f e r s

from b i o l o g i c a l autoregulations. The d i f f e r e n c e s between

biological autoregulations and e q u i l i b r a t i o n c a n be seen by

the differences between b i o l o g i c a l and c o g n i t i v e structures.

Because e q u i l i b r a t i o n c o n s t r u c t s structures, i texplains the

necessary pattern of cognitive development, and t h e unique

stability of logico-mathematical structures among organic

structures.

a) Meaning

This definition o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s based on the r e l a t i o n s h i p

of concepts i n Piaget's model o f o r g a n i c development. Struc-

tures have a property of self-regulation. Self-regulation

is m a i n t a i n e d by mechanisms o f r e g u l a t i o n , o r regulatory

mechanisms. Since d i f f e r e n c t types o f s t r u c t u r e have d i f f e r e n t

mechanisms o f r e g u l a t i o n , c o g n i t i v e regulatory mechanisms

differ from b i o l o g i c a l mechanisms. The d e f i n i t i o n i s , however,

very general at this point. To s a y m o r e s p e c i f i c a l l y what

Piaget means b y e q u i l i b r a t i o n , i t i s n e c e s s a r y t o examine

in more d e t a i l the d i f f e r e n c e s between c o g n i t i v e and biological


21

structures, and between c o g n i t i v e and biological functioning,

b) Fruitfulness

Since equilibration i s a hypothetical construct in Piaget's

theory, i t i s postulated f o r a purpose. The purpose of the

equilibration construct i s to account f o r some f e a t u r e s of

cognitive development. Thus, i n examining the meaning of

equilibration, i t i s p e r t i n e n t to ask whether equilibration

is a fruitful construct i n Piaget's theory. There are three

ways i n which equilibration could be s a i d t o be fruitful in

the theory. The first i s t h a t i t i s a n e c e s s a r y and useful

concept f o r p r o v i d i n g an internally coherent theory. The

second way i n which i t c o u l d be fruitful i s f o r i t to suggest

experiments or procedures f o r examining cognitive development.

The t h i r d way i n which equilibration c o u l d be a fruitful con-

struct i s f o r i t s p o s t u l a t i o n to enable Piaget's theory to

predict or retrodict aspects of cognitive development.

The first type of fruitfulness has already been addressed.

By definition of the concepts i n Piaget's organic model of

development, cognitive structures require a specialized

mechanism o f self-regulation. The equilibration construct

holds together l e s s a b s t r a c t concepts, such as functioning

and s t r u c t u r a l .change.
22

Piaget does not deal i n depth with the second form of

fruitfulness. Most of h i s work on equilibration concentrates

on specifying the exact nature of the equilibration mechanisms.

To d a t e , most o f h i s procedures f o r examining cognitive develop-

ment have o n l y depended upon u n d e r s t a n d i n g cognitive develop-

ment as a series of c o n s t r u c t i o n s , and have not depended upon

specifying the p a r t i c u l a r mechanism o f construction. He does

note, however, the work of some o f h i s a s s o c i a t e s i n this


23

regard. They have looked a t the l e a r n i n g which takes place

at particular p o i n t s i n time when a s u b j e c t w o u l d be "dis-

equilibrated" according to Piaget's d e f i n i t i o n of equilibration.

It i s the third form of f r u i t f u l n e s s which w i l l be most ex-

plicitly-examined i n the f o l l o w i n g pages. We wish to estab-

lish the point that postulating a particular self-regulating

mechanism i n the form of equilibration allows Piaget's

theory to p r e d i c t and retrodict, or account for, cognitive

development. I t should be noted t h a t the question of fruit-

fulness of this type i s connected to the first type of fruit-

fulness. T h a t i s , we must ask whether e q u i l i b r a t i o n is

necessary f o r the model developed by Piaget.

VI. B I O L O G I C A L AND COGNITIVE SELF-REGULATION

In Chapter One i t was shown t h a t P i a g e t c o n s i d e r e d equili-

bration t o be a distinct factor of development which over-

rides the three classical factors of maturation, social


23

experience and physical experience. Equilibration is

postulated because the classical factors are insufficient

alone to account for cognitive development. T h e y do not, and

Piaget argues, cannot e x p l a i n how formal operations are formed.

For this r e a s o n , he concludes that there m u s t be a fourth

factor which coordinates the other three.

The three classical factors are subsumed i n t o a model of

organic development (biological functioning) which provides

a good analogy for cognitive development. That i s , the

interpretative account of observations concerning cognitive

development given by this model is plausible and comprehen-

sive. Further, Piaget has provided an explanation of the

direct t r a n s i t i o n from b i o l o g i c a l f u n c t i o n i n g to cognitive

functioning. This simultaneously gives credence to the

biological model, and further elaborates upon i t . However:,

the. s t r u c t u r e s constructed by cognitive functioning, especi-

ally the structures of formal operations, differ from b i o l o -

gical structures. E q u i l i b r a t i o n must d i f f e r from b i o l o g i c a l

autoregulation, i n order to account for the differences

b e t w e e n b i o l o g i c a l and cognitive development. By analogy to

the biological/.model, e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s a mechanism of internal

regulation, which develops from b i o l o g i c a l f u n c t i o n i n g , and

which i n turn determines cognitive development. In order to

determine the role which " e q u i l i b r a t i o n " plays in Piaget's

theory, we need to know a) what s e l f - r e g u l a t o r y mechanisms


24

are and b) how e q u i l i b r a t i o n d i f f e r s from b i o l o g i c a l

autoregulations.

a) Self-regulation by Functioning

Self-regulation i s given as a p r o p e r t y of structures. I f a

system were n o t s e l f - r e g u l a t i n g i t would be e i t h e r an inorganic

form, o r dead or dying. But the property o r s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n

is n o t t h e same a s a m e c h a n i s m o f s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n . There

can be any number o f mechanisms w h i c h account f o r the property.

Functions, i n Piaget's theory, are autoregulators. Structure

is conserved by functioning, by s t r u c t u r a l a c t i v i t y . Besides

structural s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n , there can also be functional

self-regulation:

S t r u c t u r a l r e g u l a t i o n i s t h a t w h i c h o c c u r s when
the m o d i f i c a t i o n brought-about i s e i t h e r a n a t o m i c a l
o r h i s t o l o g i c a l , whereas, f u n c t i o n a l r e g u l a t i o n h a s
an i n f l u e n c e o n l y o n t h e e x e r c i s e o f p h y s i o l o g i c a l
r e a c t i o n o f t h e organs.24

Although functional regulation ultimately conserves structure,

it does so by r e g u l a t i o n of functioning, n o t by structural

compens a t i o n .

Functions, and groups of functions linked i n feed-back systems,,

form one t y p e o f a u t o r e g u l a t o r y mechanism. These regulators

conserve structure. Regulation of functions themselves would

require specialized substructures, o r "organs" o f regulation.


25

Piaget points out that the only c l e a r example o f a

biological structure which i s a functional regulator i s

the nervous system. Through the nervous system, various

functions o f the body a r e r e g u l a t e d i n response to either

internal or external disturbances. Most f u n c t i o n a l regu-:-

lators, as c o n c e i v e d i n Piaget's theory, are themselves

second (or higher) order functions, postulated to enable

the theory to give a fruitful a c c o u n t o f human behaviour.

Piaget describes the genesis of functional regulators as a

process of increasing differentiation and r e i n t e g r a t i o n o f

substructures from the o r i g i n a l structure. Cognitive

structures, he m a i n t a i n s , are constructed as s p e c i a l i z e d

structures of functional regulation which are differentiated

from the nervous system:

C o g n i t i v e p r o c e s s e s seem, t h e n , t o be a t one and


t h e same t i m e t h e o u t c o m e o f o r g a n i c autoregulation,
r e f l e c t i n g i t se s s e n t i a l mechanisms, and t h e most
h i g h l y d i f f e r e n t i a t e d organs o f t h i s r e g u l a t i o n . a t
t h e c o r e o f i n t e r a c t i o n s w i t h t h e e n v i r o n m e n t . . . 25

Cognitive structures are extrapolated from biological

functioning, and e s p e c i a l l y from f u n c t i o n i n g as autoregulation.

Autoregulations, freed from p h y s i c a l s t r u c t u r e , are coordinated

into cognitive structures. Logico-mathematical structures

are structures of functioning. The coordination of these

structures of functioning requires a s p e c i a l i z e d mechanism

of autoregulation, which Piaget calls equilibration.


26

Just as the nervous system regulates biological functions

in their interaction with the environment, e q u i l i b r a t i o n

regulates cognitive functioning i n i t s interaction with the

environment. Functional interaction with the environment

Piaget calls "exchanges", and when t h e s e e x c h a n g e s are

cognitive, they are c a l l e d "behavioural exchanges". Regulated

functioning involves an e x c h a n g e , because the functioning

affects the environment, which i n turn affects functioning.

Cognitive activity i s "behavioural", n o t as distinct from

intentional action, but from b i o l o g i c a l functioning.

Equilibration, then, i s d i s t i n c t from most b i o l o g i c a l

regulation because . i t regulates function rather than struc-

ture. The nervous system, h o w e v e r , i s one exception since

it i s a functional regulator. We can ask now whether equili-

bration is a distinct s e l f - r e g u l a t o r y mechanism, o r whether

it i s simply an e x t e n s i o n of regulations of the nervous system.

Piaget has discussed i n great detail the problems Involved in

structural and f u n c t i o n a l comparison. A l l structures are

similar i n a general sense, that i s , i n s o f a r as they have

the properties which define them as structures. Similarly,

all kinds of structures can have p a r a l l e l functions, since

functions are defined by the type of a c t i o n exerted upon the

structure. There a r e , however, ways o f d i s t i n g u i s h i n g and

comparing structures. They can be distinguished on the basis

of t h e i r elements, t h e i r laws of composition, and by different


27

types o f laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n . And, i n s o f a r as structures

differ, their functioning i s distinct from that of other

structures.

b) Regulation of Cognitive Structures

Cognitive structures differ from b i o l o g i c a l s t r u c t u r e s , the

differences increasing with each stage of cognitive develop-

ment. One o f t h e c h i e f differences between c o g n i t i v e and

biological structures and thus, cognitive and b i o l o g i c a l

functioning, i s seen i n the d i f f e r e n t environments i n which

they operate. Since a l ltypes o f regulated functioning are

exchanges w i t h the environment, d i f f e r e n t environments indi-

cate different structures . The e n v i r o n m e n t of biological

structures i s relatively well-defined, and s t a b l e over time.

The environment of the l i v e r , f o r example, c a n be affected

by externally introduced elements, b u t remains nonetheless

essentially stable: t h e r e s t o f t h e body. The nervous

s y s t e m , o f c o u r s e , o p e r a t e s i n a much more f l u i d and complex

environment than the i n t e r n a l organs. Still, i t s potential

for changing i t s environment i s l i m i t e d , so t h e environment

itself i s limited.

The environment of cognitive structures, on t h e o t h e r hand,

is constantly expanding.. The c o g n i t i v e subject i n the sensori-

motor s t a g e o p e r a t e s i n an e n v i r o n m e n t defined by b i o l o g i c a l
28

functioning, instinct, h a b i t and the possibilities for

action a c c o r d e d by subject/object differentiation. This

differentiation alone creates a marked distinction between

the environment of the young c h i l d and that of an essentially

instinctual animal. The subject/object differentiation is

the beginning of a d i s a s s o c i a t i o n of f o r m and content, form

in this case meaning a p a t t e r n of action ( s c h e m a ) , and content,

the object being manipulated. Later i n development, "content"

is abstracted f r o m m a t e r i a l o b j e c t s , and the environment

which the subject operates expands to include non-material

objects. In the formal operational stage, the cognitive

subject affects, and i s a f f e c t e d by a v a r i e t y of objects

spatially and temporally removed from her.

The expanding environment of the cognitive subject indicates

several things about c o g n i t i v e s t r u c t u r e s . First, as there

are non-material o b j e c t s , such as numbers, or properties of

material objects, the manipulation of these objects is not

necessarily a physical action. Schema can be non-physical,

and i n this sense, "internalized" actions. This of course

makes i t d i f f i c u l t to identify something as a schema.

Second, the expanding environment i n d i c a t e s the enormous

potential f o r development of cognitive structures. Structures

are built through exchanges w i t h the environment, the existing

structures d e f i n i n g the environment at that point, and the

exchanges modifying and b u i l d i n g new s t r u c t u r e s , which open


29

up new possibilities for action. Third, the very potential

for action i s an enormous menace t o the stability of cognitive

structures. A relatively stable e n v i r o n m e n t may not be very

exciting, but i t does pose o n l y a limited number o f threats

to a structure's organization. The complex and expanding

e n v i r o n m e n t of' the cognitive subject generates problems to

be resolved.

For a l l structures, self-conservation means conserving

organization i n the face of environmental intrusion. Cognitive

structures, which actively produce intrusions, require increa-

sing organization i n order not t o be destroyed by their own

functioning. Each of the stages of cognitive development

identified by Piaget represents an increasingly stable organi-

z a t i o n of cognitive structures. In fact, the final stage of

development i d e n t i f i e d by Piaget, logico-mathematical thought,

is stable to an extent unique among o r g a n i c structures:

We s u g g e s t t h a t t h e . e q u i l i b r i u m . . . w h i c h i s brought
a b o u t by l o g i c o - m a t h e m a t i c a l s t r u c t u r e s c o n s t i t u t e s
a s t a t e - m o b i l e . a n d d y n a m i c , a n d , a t t h e same t i m e
s t a b l e - a s p i r e d t o u n s u c c e s s f u l l y b y the- succession
of forms, at l e a s t where b e h a v i o u r forms are concerned,
throughout the course of the e v o l u t i o n of organized
c r e a t u r e s ?7

Not only do cognitive structures conserve organization in the

face of an expanding environment, but i n so conserving them-

selves they achieve a highly stable, though always dynamic,

form of organization.
30

In the final stage of cognitive development, the stage of

formal operational thought, the striking feature of cognitive

structures is their complete reversibility. Operations are:

A c t i o n s c h a r a c t e r i z e d by t h e i r v e r y g r e a t g e n e r a l i t y . . .
they are also reversible...(and) are never i s o l a t e d
but capable of b e i n g coordinated i n t o o v e r a l l systems.28

An action upon an object, such as combining red and blue

beads into the class of beads, i s r e v e r s i b l e because i t can

be "undone"; the objects can be returned from the class of

"beads" to the classes of "red beads" and "blue beads".

Logico-mathematical s t r u c t u r e s , whose f u n c t i o n s are operations,

are highly stable because:

...an o p e r a t i o n i s a " p e r f e c t " r e g u l a t i o n . What


t h i s means i s t h a t an o p e r a t i o n a l s y s t e m i s one
w h i c h e x c l u d e s e r r o r s b e f o r e t h e y a r e made, b e c a u s e
e v e r y o p e r a t i o n has i t s i n v e r s e i n the s y s t e m . . . o r ,
to put i t d i f f e r e n t l y , because every o p e r a t i o n i s
r e v e r s i b l e , an ' e r r o n e o u s r e s u l t ' i s s i m p l y n o t an
e l e m e n t o f t h e s y s t e m ( i f +n-n^0, t h e n n ^ n ) . 29

Logico-mathematical structures are stable i n the face of an

expanding environment because they form "closed systems".

Intrusions upon them are d e a l t with-,;-without t h r e a t to the

compositional laws of the structure. Environmental elements

are either assimilated or rejected.

Piaget argues that the development of such stable structures

requires autoregulations distinct from b i o l o g i c a l autoregulations.


31

Biological autoregulations incompletely conserve structure;

the structures are s t i l l subject t o decay over time. Logico-

mathematical structures, however, are p e r f e c t l y conserved,

once formed. New information i s subsumed by the structures

without change in i t s compositionalllaws.

By comparing certain characteristics of cognitive and

biological structures, Piaget deduces e q u i l i b r a t i o n from

the conceptual framework of structuralism. The differences

between c o g n i t i v e and b i o l o g i c a l s t r u c t u r e s implies a

difference i n functioning. In p a r t i c u l a r , the s t a b i l i t y of

cognitive structures, which e x i s t i n an e x p a n d i n g enviroment,

implies a f o r m o f s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n w h i c h more c o m p l e t e l y con-

serves structure than does b i o l o g i c a l f u n c t i o n i n g . What

would yield better regulation than functioning would be a

regulator of functions. The regulation of functions i s not

an intrinsic property of functioning, so c o g n i t i v e structures

must have an a d d i t i o n a l mechanism by which this functional

regulation is obtained.

VII. C O N S T R U C T I O N OF COGNITIVE STRUCTURES

That there i s a s p e c i a l mechanism o f c o g n i t i v e regulation,

and that i t i s a functional regulator, i s indicated by

comparisions of cognitive and biological structures. But

if logico-mathematical structures show c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s o f


32

functional regulation, the question remains:

. . . i f i ti s t h e s t r u c t u r e s which e x p l a i n e q u i l i -
b r a t i o n , o r i fon t h e c o n t r a r y t h e s t r u c t u r e s
can be i n t e r p r e t e d as t h e p r o d u c t o r r e s u l t o f
a process o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n . 3 0

Unless i t c a n b e shown t h a t e q u i l i b r a t i o n contributes to

the creation of logico-mathematical structures, "equilibration"

is not a very fruitful concept i n Piaget's theory. To address

the issue of equilibration's explanatory u s e f u l n e s s , we must

look a t t h e mechanisms o f s t r u c t u r a l c o n s t r u c t i o n .

Before examining equilibration's role i n the construction

of c o g n i t i v e s t r u c t u r e s , t h e r e must be r e a s o n to believe

that these s t r u c u t r e s are indeed c o n s t r u c t e d i n some m a n n e r .

Piaget's evidence f o rthis, o f course, i s h i s observation

that there are distinct stages o f c o g n i t i v e development.

Piaget's enumeration o f stages has been m o d i f i e d over time,

but i s i s s a f e enough t o name t h e t h r e e m a j o r p e r i o d s o f

cognitive development: sensori-motor thought, pre-operational

thought, and formal o p e r a t i o n a l thought. Within each o f

these periods, there are sub-periods and stages. Evidence of

the stages consists i n observations of distinctive action

patterns seen a t d i f f e r e n t points i n a child's development.

It has been observed b y P i a g e t , a n d m a n y o t h e r s ?\hat the

presence and order o f succession o f the stages i s constant

across cultural barriers, though t h e speed o f s u c c e s s i o n may

vary.
33

Each stage represents a more o r l e s s p e r m a n e n t equilibrium

(or "equilibrated state" - t o emphasize the active nature

of the equilibrium). Piaget's fundamental hypothesis con-

cerning cognitive development i s that i t i s a process of


32

construction of "progressively adequate e q u i l i b r a t i o n " ,

or increasingly stable structures. This process of

construction:

. . . i n b e i n g c o n s t a n t l y r e g u l a t e d by e q u i l i b r a t i o n
r e q u i r e m e n t s , (a s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n whose c o n d i t i o n s
become t h e more s t r i n g e n t as i t s t e e r s t o w a r d a n
e q u i l i b r i u m t h a t i s . m o b i l e a n d s t a b l e a t t h e same
time), f i n a l l y y i e l d s a n e c e s s i t y that i s a non-
temporal, because r e v e r s i b l e , . law?^

So, equilibration itself i s a process; a process which

directs the pattern of cognitive development.

In order t o decide whether e q u i l i b r a t i o n does, i n fact,

determine the course of cognitive development, two points

deserve special attention. The f i r s t i s the meaning o f

cognitive equilibrium.) , I fe q u i l i b r a t i o n i s a process o f

constructing increasingly stable structures, i n what sense

is a structure more o r l e s s stable? The s e c o n d point

concerns the nature of regulatory mechanisms i n general,

and the differences between e q u i l i b r a t i o n and o t h e r regulators.

H e r e we w i l l look a t the regulations produced by b i o l o g i c a l

functioning a n d why Piaget maintains that they alone are

insufficient to construct logico-mathematical structures.


34

a) Meaning of. C o g n i t i v e Equilibrium

'34.
Cognitive structures can be e q u i l i b r a t e d i n d i f f e r e n t ways.

The first type of equilibrium i s a balance between assimi-

lation and accommodation. Assimilation, i t will be recalled,

is the functioning of a s c h e m a t o incorporate outside


,35

elements compatible with i t s nature into itself, and

accommodation i s the modification of an assimilation schema

to deal with a particularity of the environment. To conserve

the total structure of a schema, each accommodation must be

assimilated to the structure.of which i t i s an accommodation.

For example, a schema f o r p u t t i n g objects in the mouth could

be subject t o many a c c o m m o d a t i o n s , e . g . , taking into account

the shape or weight of an object. I f each of these accom-

modations were not assimilated i n t o the schema upon w h i c h they

were based, there w o u l d be no systematic extension of the

child's ability to bring objects to the mouth. Instead, each

performance of this action would require random t r i a l and

error. The process of e q u i l i b r a t i o n as i t relates to a balance

of a s s i m i l a t i o n and accommodation i s one of assimilating each

accommodation to the schemata.

The second form of cognitive equilibrium i s an equilibrium

between s u b s t r u c t u r e s . Various schema can exist independently

from each other, and only be brought to play i n d i v i d u a l l y .

This i s the case i n Piaget's observations of conservation


35

notions (or lack thereof) i n pre-operational thought. A

child at this stage might sometimes say that there i s more

water a f t e r i t has been poured, because the water level i s

higher, or that there i s l e s s because i ti s thinner. By

reciprocal a s s i m i l a t i o n o f t h e two s c h e m a t a , conservation of

continuous quantity i s constructed. The p r o c e s s of equili-

bration between substructures i s one o f mutual intercoordina-

tion.

The third form of e q u i l i b r a t i o n e s t a b l i s h e s hierarchical

connections between s t r u c t u r e s and s u b s t r u c t u r e s . In this

process, the substructures created by accommodation a r e

reciprocally intercoordinated with their total structure.

A s t r u c t u r e where a l l relationships.-between i t and i t s

substructures has been e s t a b l i s h e d i s a closed system. When

such a s t r u c t u r e meets w i t h an e n v i r o n m e n t a l intrusion, the

intrusion i s compensated f o rwithout change i n the composi-

tional laws o f t h e s t r u c t u r e .

Cognitive equilibrium i s not a "balance" like that between

two objects o f e q u a l w e i g h t on a s c a l e . What i s being bal-

anced, instead, are the "forces" of assimilating the envir-

onment and accommodating to i t . The e q u i l i b r i u m i s d y n a m i c

because the subject i s active. I f we said that a subject

was i n a s t a t e of cognitive equilibrium, this equilibrium

would be temporary, and would "...consist of a s e t of probable


36

compensations o f e x t e r n a l i n t r u s i o n s by t h e a c t i v i t y of the
, . .. . 36
subject .

Compensations a r e formed through the functioning of schemata,

and a r e o f two types:

...the compensations by i n v e r s i o n w h i c h
1
are
/ c a n c e l l a t i o n s - o f t h e d i s t u r b a n c e / , a n d t h e - , c o m p e n -
s a t i o n s by. r e c i p r o c i t y , . w h i c h a r e . m o d i f i c a t i o n s
1 1

o f t h e schema t o accommodate i t t o t h e i n i t i a l l y
d i s t u r b i n g element.3 7

Hammering a nail s t r a i g h t into a piece o f wood can involve

both types of compensations. Striking the n a i l on the side

compensates f o r a blow which h a s b e n t i t down. This i s

inversion. Reciprocity i s involved when t h e s u b j e c t adjusts

her p o s i t i o n o r reach, to h i t the n a i l with the most d i r e c t

force possible.

"Reversibility" i s the s t r u c t u r a l counterpart to compensations.

I t , .too-, h a s t h e t w o f o r m s o f i n v e r s i o n a n d r e c i p r o c i t y .

Logico-mathematical structures are completely reversible

because they are structures not only o f i n v e r s i o n and reci-

procity, b u t o f t h e r e c i p r o c a l i n t e r c o o r d i n a t i o n o f them.

For example, the arithmetic operations, by t h e coordination

of i n v e r s i o n and r e c i p r o c i t y , a l l o w us t o d e f i n e a variable

in an a l g e b r a i c statement:
37

3x:.+ 2 = 7
(3x + 2 ) - 2 = 7 - 2 (-2 i s t h e r e c i p r o c a l o f 2)
(3x)(1/3) = (5)(1/3) ( 1 / 3 i s t h e i n v e r s e o f 3)
x = 5/3

Thus, s t r u c t u r a l r e v e r s i b i l i t y refers to the internal

connections of a structure which allow elements i n i t to

be "transformed" into other elements and back to their

original state.

b) Mechanisms o f Regulation

At this point, one m i g h t w e l l wonder what d i f f e r e n c e there

really i s between compensations, regulations and functions.

The answer i s that they are i n a hierarchical relationship,

(see Chart 1). Compensatory mechanisms a r e constructed

from regulatory mechanisms, which are.constructed from

functioning. I n each case, t h e p r i o r mechanism contains

the property of the next higher mechanism i n an incomplete

form. That i s , f u n c t i o n i n g has the secondary effect of reg-

ulating s t r u c t u r e , and r e g u l a t o r y mechanisms have t h e

secondary e f f e c t o f s t r u c t u r a l compensation..

This hierarchical relationship explains, though i t does n o t

excuse, t h e v a r i e t y o f names b y w h i c h Piaget calls these

mechanisms, e.g., compensatory regulations f o r compensations,

and regulatory functions f o rregulations. Regulations are

a refinement of functions; compensations are a refinement


38

of regulations. In each case, the l i f e - d r i v e to preserve

organization leads to the construction of increasingly

specific mechanisms o f s t r u c t u r a l conservation.

Functioning alone accounts f o r a c e r t a i n amount o f con-

struction ( i ,e . , a c c o m m o d a t i o n s . ) . I t i s not d i f f i c u l t to

see that conservation requires construction, and t h a t the

presence of regulations and compensations adds s t i l l greater

potential f o r construction. Chart 2 represents the con-

struction of structures by functioning, regulation and

compensation. At each step, of course, there c a n be a

return t o the o r i g i n a l schema(s). Not a l l functions lead

to regulations, nor a l l regulations to compensations.

Whether they do o r n o t d e p e n d s i n t h e g r e a t e s t part on t h e

nature of the disturbance which leads to the functioning.

This brings us t o a c r u c i a l question: Is equilibration

different from the regulations inherent i n biological

functioning, o r i s i t simply an e x t e n s i o n o f , e.g., compen-

sations. The answer'.is -both y e s a n d no. Equilibration i s

a "regulator of regulations", and d e v e l o p s from biological

functioning itself. Thus i t i s b o t h a conceptual and actual

extension of organic regulations. However, i t i s a l s o

qualitatively different from other organic regulations.


39

CHART I

m e c h a n i s m o f k EQUILIBRATION

Reciprocal
Assimilation

mechanism o f f - C O M P E N S A T I O N

I > Reciprocity Inversion .Property


of
m e c h a n i s m o f <
R E G U L A T I O N

Positive Negative .Property


Feedback Feedback of

mechanism
of F U N C T I O N I N G

Assimilation Accommodation
CHART I I

S T R U C T U R A L CONSTRUCTION THROUGH F U N C T I O N I N G

-<u>. Environmental
Intrusion

Equislibration

Compensation Compensation
by >ration by-
Inversion' <>/s 'V <T
Reciprocity

Regulation Regulation
by by
Positive Negative
Feedback Feedback

Assimilation Accommodation

*See Page 42
41

The d i f f e r e n c e between equilibration and other regulators

lies i n the disturbances which i tregulates. Biologically-

functioning operates on t h e p h y s i c a l environment o f the

organism. Biological r e g u l a t o r y mechanisms regulate

structures i n their r e l a t i o n s h i p to this environment.

Cognitive structures are subject to internal disturbances.

The accommodation of a cognitive structure, unlike the

accommodation of a biological structure, creates not only

the s t r u c t u r e o f accommodation, b u t a second, complementary

structure.

In t h e c a s e o f an accommodation leading to a compensation,

the immediate organic requirement i s that the accommodation,

S', b e a s s i m i l a t e d t o t h e o r i g i n a l s t r u c t u r e , S. The a s s i m i -

lation of S 1
as a subclass of S implicitly entails construc-

tion of a subclass o f t h e same o r d e r , S" = S n o n S . The first

form o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n or resolution of internal disturbances,

thus creates t h e need f o r the second and t h i r d types, since

it creates a second substructure o f t h e same o r d e r as S .


1

Equilibration of the second form creates a new s t r u c t u r e ,

gni _ S i I I^
s p^fi r e c i p r o c a l a s s i m i l a t i o n b e t w e e n S, S', S",

S" , 1
e t c . , not only e s t a b l i s h e s a l l connections between S and

its substructures, but the boundaries o f S.

As a n e x a m p l e , we can look a t t h e accommodation of a parti-

cular classificatory structure. Imagine t h a t a child knows


42

t h a t dogs and cats are animals. She s e e s a fish f o r the

first time, and i d e n t i f i e s i tas an a n i m a l , because i t moves

and has eyes. The o r i g i n a l structure(s) i s "things which

move a n d h a v e e y e s , and l i v e on t h e l a n d " . The s t r u c t u r e

created by the accommodation(s) i s "things w h i c h move a n d

have eyes and l i v e i n the water". The complementary struc-

ture created by the a s s i m i l a t i o n o f S 1


to S i s "things which

move a n d h a v e e y e s and don't live i n the water". (S"). The

reciprocal a s s i m i l a t i o n o f t h e s e two s u b s t r u c t u r e s creates a

structure of their i n t e r s e c t i o n , "things which move a n d h a v e

eyes". (S"'). These c o n s t r u c t i o n s lead to equilibration of

the third f o r m , b e t w e e n t h e new s t r u c t u r e a n d t h e t w o s u b -

structures. In this case, that e q u i l i b r a t i o n establishes

the class/subclass r e l a t i o n s h i p s b e t w e e n S"', a n d S' a n d S".

R e f e r r i n g back t o C h a r t 2, i t c a n b e s e e n that conservation

by functioning i s inadequate to resolve internal disturbances.

Indeed, i ti s o n l y the beginning o f them, as i t c r e a t e s t h e

new s t r u c t u r e s w h i c h require equilibration o f a l lthree forms.

Structural conservation implies c o n s t r u c t i o n , b u t does n o t

determine i t s form. Compensation determines the form o f

construction, b u t d o e s n o t d e t e r m i n e h o w t h e new constructions

will be i n t e g r a t e d into the original structure.


43

VIII. A C C O U N T I N G FOR C O G N I T I V E D E V E L O P M E N T WITH THE CONCEPT


OF E Q U I L I B R A T I O N

By contrasting cognitive structures and b i o l o g i c a l s t r u c t u r e s ,

and cognitive regulations and b i o l o g i c a l r e g u l a t i o n s , Piaget

establishes that equilibration i s a distinct form o f self-

regulation. These arguments tell us what e q u i l i b r a t i o n means,

a n d how e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s n e c e s s a r y f o r t h e i n t e r n a l consistency

of Piaget's theory. However, i ti s s t i l l not clear whether

the concept o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n increases the ability o f .Piaget's

theory to explain cognitive development. I fequilibration

does n o t add t o t h e theory's explanation, i t s usefulness i s

questionable.

Equilibration i s meant t o e x p l a i n certain things which have

been observed;about c o g n i t i v e development: that i t proceeds

through a s e r i e s o f stages, and that the structures o f each

stage a r e i n c r e a s i n g l y r e v e r s i b l e , and therefore complete.

B a s e d o n C h a p t e r s O n e a n d Two, we c a n s e e w h y e q u i l i b r a t i o n

explains ..cognitive development, and t o a c e r t a i n extent,

how i t d o e s so. However, i n o r d e r to fully u n d e r s t a n d how

equilibration explains cognitive development, i twill be

necessary t o look a t the kind o f explanation yielded by

structuralist methods. We w i l l also t r y t o make s e n s e o f

the varying language that Piaget u s e s when he t a l k s about

equilibration.
44

a) Construction of Logico-mathematical Structures

The primary r e a s o n why e q u i l i b r a t i o n accounts for the

development of logico-mathematical structures i s that a l l

regulations entail the construction of s t r u c t u r e s , and the

characteristics of the structures so constructed are deter-

m i n e d by the c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the regulatory mechanism.

The s p e c i a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of e q u i l i b r a t i o n as a regulatory

mechanism i s that i t regulates by reciprocal assimilation.

This differs, e.g., from r e g u l a t o r y mechanisms, which regu-

late construction by p o s i t i v e or negative feed-back. Each

a s s i m i l a t i o n of an accommodation creates disturbances based

on the i n t e r n a l relations of the structure, rather than i t s

relations to the environment. This much s a i d , h o w e v e r , we

can s t i l l ask j u s t how Piaget purports to account for the

pattern and outcome of cognitive development w i t h the concept

of e q u i l i b r a t i o n .

To begin with, Piaget's explanation of cognitive development

does not p r o c e e d by way of simple causal laws. Such accounts,

he asserts, cannot deal adequately with the dynamic processes

at play i n cognitive development. R a t h e r , he formulates

an account of cognitive development on the basis of proba-

bilistic laws. E q u i l i b r a t i o n mechanism, therefore:


45

...do not y i e l d simple causal (laws), but


s t a t i s t i c a l ( l a w s ) , w h i c h s h o u l d be inter-
p r e t e d i n an ' i m p e r s o n a l ' , or n e u t r a l , manner,
f o r e x a m p l e , i n t h e way t h a t we c a l l o n the
p r i n c i p l e s of 'least action' i n a n a l y t i c me-
c h a n i c s , t o ' d e s c r i b e ' t h e p a t h o f an a t o m as
being t h a t which corresponds to the ' l e a s t a c t i o n *
i n the passage from the p o i n t of d e p a r t u r e to
t h e e n d - p o i n t ( o f t h e m o t i o n ) .38

T h u s , we would not say " e q u i l i b r a t i o n causes the construction

of logico-mathematical s t r u c t u r e s " , but that "the construct

tion of logico-mathematical structures corresponds to a

process of construction g o v e r n e d by e q u i l i b r a t i o n mechanisms".

By providing an explanation of development on the basis of

increasing probabilities, " . . . e q u i l i b r a t i o n ... a c c o u n t s for

the ' s e l e c t i o n ' of the actual system f r o m among t h e range

of possibles...".39 organic regulations contain the possibilities

for initial cognitive regulations. The probability for

particular coordinations i s ' i n c r e a s e d through functioning,"';

particularly'.-by a s s i m i l a t i o n of successful (i.e., need-

fulfilling) accommodations. Each coordination, or reequili-

bration, determines a. new set of probabilities.

40

In his e a r l i e r w o r k on equilibration, Piaget presents a

probabilistic m o d e l b a s e d on four dimensions of e q u i l i b r a t i o n :

field of a p p l i c a t i o n , m o b i l i t y , permanence, and stability.

The first cognitive coordinations,, arising from biological

functioning, i s the e q u i l i b r a t i o n of schemata across their


46

field of application (the objects to which they refer).

This coordination then provides the p o s s i b i l i t y f o ra mobile

equilibration, (one w h i c h crosses fields) and so on. Internal

disturbances a r i s e and a r e r e s o l v e d i n dialectical fashion, . ,

e.g. centration on l e n g t h , centration on width, with the

coordination of these eventually leading to the conservation

of volume. In this account, e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s simply t h e name

of the d i a l e c t i c a l process.

I n h i s more r e c e n t works, Piaget has attempted to explain

dialectical processes i n development, rather than to explain

d e v e l o p m e n t by them. I n The D e v e l o p m e n t o f T h o u g h t ^ 1 Piaget

presents a model o f c o g n i t i v e development based on t h e c o -

ordination of functional negations (negative feedback) and

functional affirmations (positive feedback), into structures

which are completely reversible. E q u i l i b r a t i o n , o r the process

of a s s i m i l a t i n g accommodations, i s the: m e c h a n i s m b y which

negations and a f f i r m a t i o n s of particular structures are

synthesized, creating structures comprised of r e c i p r o c a l

relations.

In this account, as i n h i s e a r l i e r accounts, each e q u i l i b r a t i o n

raises the p o s s i b i l i t y f o r new d i s t u r b a n c e s . Unlike a state-

ment o f d i a l e c t i c a l processes, however, p o s t u l a t i n g the

existence o f a mechanism o f r e c i p r o c a l a s s i m i l a t i o n accounts

for the form which the e q u i l i b r a t i o n takes:


47

C o n s t r u c t i o n , i n b e i n g c o n s t a n t l y r e g u l a t e d by
e q u i l i b r a t i o n r e q u i r e m e n t s , (a s e l f - r e g u l a t i o n
whose c o n d i t i o n s become t h e more s t r i n g e n t as i t
s t e e r s t o w a r d an e q u i l i b r i u m t h a t i s m o b i l e a n d
s t a b l e a t t h e same t i m e ) , f i n a l l y y i e l d s a n e -
c e s s i t y that i s a non-temporal, because r e v e r s i b l e ,
l a w . 42

A mechanism o f r e c i p r o c a l a s s i m i l a t i o n , then, accounts f o r

the construction of structures with the s p e c i a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s

of logico-mathematical structures.

To f u r t h e r e l u c i d a t e i t s e x p l a n a t o r y nature, equilibration

principles c a n be l i k e n e d t o t h e u n c e r t a i n t y principle i n

modern p h y s i c s . The u n c e r t a i n t y principle i s a "law" which

g o v e r n s w h a t c a n be known a b o u t the speed and p o s i t i o n o f a

sub-atomic p a r t i c l e a t any one t i m e . I t i s a law i n the

sense that i tdescribes a necessary feature of a certain

type of observation. Similarly, equilibration describes

necessary features of cognitive development.

b) Language o f E q u i l i b r a t i o n

Also like the uncertainty principle, equilibration "laws"

are implicit i n that which they explain. This accounts i n

part f o r the difficulties people often e n c o u n t e r when trying

t o make s e n s e o f P i a g e t ' s theory. To a c e r t a i n extent,

Piaget i s simply careless i n language use. His terminology

often shifts as he u s e s a number o f s i m i l a r terms t o convey


48

roughly t h e same c o n c e p t . This c a n compound the problem

of understanding an a l r e a d y difficult theory.

A prime example o f P i a g e t ' s confusing language i s h i s assign-

ment o f v a r i o u s attributes to equilibration, and interchange-

able use o f the terms so c o n s t r u c t e d . He speaks, at various

times, o f "(the) equilibration m e c h a n i s m ^ s ) ",


:
"equilibration

process", and "equilibration laws". Although i t may be

needlessly confusing to the reader, there i s no inconsistency

or contradiction involved i n this particular practice.

Equilibration c a n be r i g h t l y called a mechanism, process or

law.

One meaning o f "mechanism" i s t h e " a g e n c y o r means by which


43

an effect i s produced".' Piaget certainly intends f o r

equilibration t o be s u c h a phenomenon:

E q u i l i b r a t i o n would thus e x p l a i n the process o f


t r a n s i t i o n from p r e l o g i c a l to the l o c a l mathematical
s t r u c t u r e s , and, hence, t h e f o r m a t i o n and above a l l
completion of these structures.44

The process of progressive equilibrations i s the mechanism

by which such e f f e c t s are produced. The: r e g u l a t i o n s

r e q u i r e d by the character o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n mechanisms are

laws governing the construction of structures. As f o r

singular and p l u r a l forms, e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s a mechanism

which c a n be a c t i n g on any number of structures simultaneously.


49

IX. F R U I T F U L N E S S OF T H E CONCEPT OF EQUILIBRATION

Now that we k n o w w h a t P i a g e t m e a n s b y " e q u i l i b r a t i o n " , how

it differs from s i m i l a r concepts, and what Piaget intends

for i t t o e x p l a i n , we can ask what i tcontributes to Piaget's

theory of cognitive development. O r , i n o t h e r w o r d s , we want

to ask " I s e q u i l i b r a t i o n a f r u i t f u l concept i n the theory?"

As a s p e c i a l mechanism o f i n t e r n a l r e g u l a t i o n , which regulates

cognitive functioning, equilibration i s unlike other mechanisms

of regulation i n Piaget's organic model. Since i t regulates

functioning by r e c i p r o c a l a s s i m i l a t i o n o f accommodations into

the original structure, e q u i l i b r a t i o n constructs structures

whose laws o f c o m p o s i t i o n are reversible connections between

the elements o f the s t r u c t u r e . These "reversible" structures

are stable t o an extent unique among o r g a n i c structures,

because their functioning does not. m o d i f y their compositional

laws.

If we accept Piaget's model o f o r g a n i c functioning as an a p t

framework f o rexamining cognition, some s p e c i a l mechanism

of self-regulation i s conceptually required to account f o r

the differences between c o g n i t i v e and b i o l o g i c a l s t r u c t u r e s .

On t h e s e grounds, the concept o f e q u i l i b r a t i o n i s u s e f u l ;

equilibration holds t h e model together.


50

Piaget, however, intends for equilibration to contribute

more t o h i s a c c o u n t than simply internal coherence of the

model. Postulating a special mechanism of internal regulation,

he maintains, allows us to provide a probabilistic explanation

of c o g n i t i v e development, proceeding through an invariant

series of stages, and culminating i n logico-mathematical

structures. In regard to this claim, i t i s fair to ask

w h e t h e r hiiis a c c o u n t c o u l d be made w i t h o u t recourse to a

particular mechanism of the sort t h a t he describes.

This question can lead to questions about the plausibility

and/or usefulness of Piaget's account i n general. Equili-

bration is a particularly a b s t r a c t concept, implied through

a complex theory whose b a s i c elements, s t r u c t u r e s , are them-

selves abstract. Thus, on reading P i a g e t , one i s often left

w o n d e r i n g w h e t h e r he has e x p l a i n e d anything beyond h i s model

itself. I t i s not the purpose of this paper to provide

justification of Piaget's model. We w i l l , however, look at

a/few, p o i n t s c o n c e r n i n g the theory i n g e n e r a l , as these points

are r e l e v a n t to the question of the fruitfulness of the

concept of equilibration.

a) Equilibration and Piaget's Organic Model

To b e g i n w i t h , we want to ask whether the relationship between

equilibration and the:..reversibility of logico-mathematical


51

structures i s merely tautological. T h a t i s , do these

structures simply "look like" they are regulated by

equilibration, or i s there reason to say that equilibration

mechanisms c o n t r i b u t e to the formation of them? Piaget

replies, "...observation and e x p e r i m e n t show as clearly

as possible that logical s t r u c t u r e s are c o n s t r u c t e d . . . " .45

Piaget's i n s i s t e n c e on this point can best be understood

in a historical context;-.. To most p e o p l e today, there is

nothing s u r p r i s i n g or radical i n the idea that cognitive

structures are somehow.constructed. In fact, the widespread

acceptance of this idea i s due i n l a r g e measure to Piaget's

work. When h e began h i s studies of children's conceptions

of the world, the two prevailing epistemological stands

were i n n a t e i s m and empiricist associationism, both of which

survive to this day i n some form.

T h e s e two stands o f f e r opposing and simple explanations for

the fundamental concepts of cognition. These concepts, such

as non-contradiction, are e i t h e r given a priori, or they are

i m p r e s s e d upon the m i n d as necessary features of the obser-

vable world. Piaget counters both these views, saying:

. . . t h e k n o w l e d g e o f t h e e n v i r o n m e n t w h i c h i s so
a d m i r a b l y a t t a i n e d by t h e human m i n d i s o n l y so
a t t a i n e d by v i r t u e o f an e x t e n s i o n o f t h e
o r g a n i z a t i o n ' s s t r u c t u r e s i n t o the u n i v e r s e as
a whole. 4 6
52

If anything, Piaget leans toward a form o f innateism; he

is generally considered a Kantian. However, as he takes

pains to point out, the structures o f c o g n i t i o n may b e latent

in biological organization, but this i n no way a c c o u n t s f o r

the process of their construction.

But, w e ^ c a n ! s t i l l a s k , does the concept of e q u i l i b r a t i o n

add to Piaget's account o f the construction of cognitive

structures, o r could this a c c o u n t b e made w i t h o u t equili-

bration? Insofar a s we take h i s account t o be a d e s c r i p t i o n

of t h e s e r i e s o f stages o f development, t h e answer i s t h a t

the p a r t i c u l a r mechanism he d e s c r i b e s i s not necessary.

I n d e e d , h i s many s t u d i e s of cognitive development p e r se

refer t o e q u i l i b r a t i o n as an important process, b u t do n o t

specify i t s nature i n detail.

So, i n the s t r i c t sense o f " p r e d i c t i o n " , the concept o f

equilibration i s not necessary f o rprediction to Piaget's

theory. Functioning, at this state of cognitive development,

makes a r e o r g a n i z a t i o n of structures i n t o a new stage

increasingly likely. E q u i l i b r a t i o n i s not necessary to

predict that each stage w i l l be o b t a i n e d . Likewise, Piaget

has n o t as y e t p r o v i d e d a framework f o rpredicting the

particular likelihood o f an i n d i v i d u a l ' s a t t a i n i n g a higher

stage.
53

There i s , however, more t o P i a g e t ' s theory than the predic-

tion of stages. Besides determining that cognitive structures

are c o n s t r u c t e d ..in a p a r t i c u l a r sequence, P i a g e t i s attempting

to determine how this c o n s t r u c t i o n takes place. In this

regard, equilibration is a fruitful concept. I t allows the

theory to retrodict, o r e x p l a i n t h e way i n which structures

are constructed. Although the fact of attaining one level

of o r g a n i z a t i o n (stage) provides the possibility for attainment

of the next, i t does n o t tell us how the organization is

attained:

I f t h e n o v e l t y t o be c o n s t r u e d i s s u g g e s t e d by :

t h e p r e c e d i n g c o m p l e t i o n s , i s i t riot p r e d e t e r m i n e d ?
The r e p l y i s t h a t t h e w o r l d o f p o s s i b i l i t i e s i s
never complete, nor, consequently, given i n a d v a n c e d

Equilibration, by i t s particular character of r e g u l a t i o n ,

can e x p l a i n why c o g n i t i v e s t r u c t u r e s are c o n s t r u c t e d as they

are.

T h u s , by enabling Piaget's theory to r e t r o d i c t the course

and outcome o f c o g n i t i v e development, e q u i l i b r a t i o n is a

fruitful concept i n the theory. I t should be noted, too,

that retrodiction i s not a c l o s e d book. Experimental studies

of equilibration, such as those mentioned i n Chapter Five,

may yield particular predictive hypotheses.


54

b) Verifleability of Equilibration

In conclusion, there i s one f u r t h e r p o i n t t o be considered.

I f we a r e a s k e d t o accept that the hypothesis that equili-

bration mechanisms h e l p f o r m c o g n i t i v e s t r u c t u r e s may b e m o r e

than a retrodictive hypothesis, i ti s appropriate to ask

whether this hypothesis c a n be v e r i f i e d or falsified. Most

likely, the equilibration hypothesis cannot be proven t o be


48 .
false, but only opposed. I f one remains w i t h i n structuralist

methods, t h e p a r t i c u l a r s o f i t s a c t i o n s might be modified,

as they were by P i a g e t h i m s e l f . But even these modifications

were t h e r e s u l t of inadequacies, not inconsistencies per se.

The concept and t h e framework i n which i t i s imbedded a r e

both highly flexible; a g o o d many a n a m o l o u s observations

c o u l d be i n c o r p o r a t e d into the theory without radically

changing i t .

One. c o u l d simply deny t h e .entire model, which, i n fact, many

people do. Piaget apparently enjoys responding t o such

challenges. Besides h i s frequent arguments against simple

forms o f a s s o c i a t i o n i s m and i n n a t e i s m , he speaks at various

times to behaviourists needs-reductionists and social-

learning.theorists. These statements are a l l variations

on t h e same t h e m e : He i s a b l e t o account f o r observations

made f r o m these perspectives, while they are inadequate to

account f o r a l l of h i sobservations, and o f t e n , he claims,


55

for their own.

Approaching equilibration both from w i t h i n the model

generated by s t r u c t u r a l i s m , a n d f r o m w i t h o u t i t , we come

u p a g a i n s t t h e same question: Is there a better account?

With the concept.of equilibration, P i a g e t has brought

psychology into t h e modern s c i e n t i f i c w o r l d where falsi-

fiability becomes v e r y hazy. The p r i m a r y , a n d p e r h a p s only,

grounds left for rejecting a plausible theory i s the existence

of an a l t e r n a t i v e theory which i s able to account f o r more

evidence than the p r e v i o u s one. The o n l y o b v i o u s way f o r

this to occur i s t o come u p w i t h a f o r m a l i z a t i o n of cognitive

processes based on a concept which subsumes equilibration.

In this regard, equilibration stands out with other modern

scientific concepts as i n c l u d i n g the p o s s i b i l i t y f o r such

a construction within itself, and t h e r e f o r e e x c l u d i n g i t a t

the level of formalization


56

FOOTNOTES

1. J e a n P i a g e t , The C h i l d a n d R e a l i t y , (New Y o r k :
V i k i n g P r e s s , 1973), p . 146.

2. Jean Piaget, S t r u c t u r a l i s m , (New Y o r k : Harper & Row,


1973), p. 59.

3. Ibid,, p. 90.

4. Jean P i a g e t , B i o l o g y and Knowledge, (Chicago:


U n i v e r s i t y o f C h i c a g o P r e s s , 1971) p . 1 2 .

5. H a n s G. F u r t h , P i a g e t and Knowledge, (New Jersey:


Prentice Hall, 1965), p. 1870.

6. Theodore M i s c h e l , "Piaget: C o g n i t i v e C o n f l i c t and


Motivation", i n C o g n i t i v e Development and Epistemology,
:

e d . b y T. M i s c h e l , (New Y o r k : A c a d e m i c P r e s s , 1 9 7 1 ) ,
p. 3 3 2 .

7. Jean Piaget, S i x Psychological Studies, (New Y o r k :


R a n d o m H o u s e , 1 9 6 7 ) , p . 6.

8. J o h n F l a v e l l , " C o m m e n t s o n B e i l i n ' s 'The D e v e l o p m e n t


o f P h y s i c a l C o n c e p t s ' , " o p . c i t . , T. M i s c h e l , p . 1 2 6 .

9. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1971), p. 17.

10. Ibid., p. 32.

11. Jean P i a g e t , Psychology and Epistemology, (New Y o r k :


V i k i n g P r e s s , 1971), p. 67.

12. Op. c i t . ,Piaget, ( 1 9 7 3 ) , p. 6.

13. Ibid., p. 24.

14 . I b i d . , p.' 1 0 .

15. Ibid'., p . 14 ^

16. Op. c i t . ,Piaget, (1971), p. 141.

17. J e a n P i a g e t , The P s y c h o l o g y o f t h e C h i l d , (New Y o r k :


B a s i c B o o k s , 1 9 6 7 ) , p. 1 1 .

18. Op. c i t . ,Piaget, (1971), p. 148.


57

19. Op. Sit., (1970), p. 114.

20. Jean Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence i n Children,


(New York: International University Press, 1 9 5 2 ) .

21. Ibid,,, :P: 148.

22. Op. c i t . , Piaget, X1971), p. 366.

23. Jean Piaget, The Development of Thought, (New York:


The Viking Press, 1 9 7 7 ) , p. 39.

24. Op. c i t . , Piaget, (1971), p. 30.

25. Ibid., p. 26.


26. Cf. Structuralism, and Biology, and Knowledge, pp. 54-60.

27. Op.--cit , P i a g e t ( 1 9 7 1 ) , p. 356.


v

28. Op. c i t . , Piaget, (1967), p. 96.-

29. Op. c i t . , Piaget, (1970), p. 15.'

30. Jean Piaget, Logique et E q u i l i b r e , (Paris: Universi-


taires France, 1 9 5 7 ) , p. 43. Translated by present
author.
31. Cf. Inhelder and others, Etudes L'epistemologie
Genetique.
32. Op. cat., Piaget, (1977), p. 4.

33. Op. c i t . , Piaget, (1970), p. 67.

34. "Equilibrated" i s the achievement-word corresponding to


the task-word, " e q u i l i b r a t i o n " . " E q u i l i b r a t i o n " i t s e l f
i s sometimes used as an achievement word.

35. Op.'cit., Piaget, (1977), p. 7.

36. Ibid., p. 19.

37 . Ibid., p. 26.
3 8
' O P - c i t . , Piaget, (1957), Translated by present author.

39. Op. c i t . , Piaget, (1970), p. 113.

40. Op. c_it. , Piaget, ( 1 9 5 7 ) , pp. 38-40.


58

41. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1977).

42. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1970), p . 67

43. Random House C o l l e g e D i c t i o n a r y , (New Y o r k : Random


H o u s e P r e s s , 1 9 7 2 ) , p . 8 2 9 , #2.

44. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1967), p. 105.

45. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1970), p. 62.

46. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1971), p. 338.

47. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1977), p. 182.

4 8. C f . Thomas K u h n , The S t r u c t u r e o f S c i e n t i f i c Revolutions,


(Chicago: The U n i v e r s i t y o f C h i c a g o P r e s s , 1962).

49. Jean P i a g e t , Introduction to Furth, op. c i t .

50. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1971)), p p . 45-49 .

51. Op. c i t . , P i a g e t , (1971), p. 368.


59

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