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About us Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences Psychology Research Units Theory and History of Psychology

Piaget's new theory: History, context, and remaining contributions

Theory and History of Psychology

Piaget’s “new theory” is new in several ways. Initially, it was thought only to relate to a change he had made in the logical formalism underlying the standard view of stages (Beilin, 1992a, 1992b; Davidson, 1988). This was then extended to changes in fundamental theoretical concepts, like the meaning of “assimilation” and “accommodation” (Acredolo, 1997; Bickhard, 1997). But I have shown that the changes were even more far-reaching than that. The update in his logic were in turn supported by changes in the evolutionary meta-theory upon which the original conceptualization of stages had been based (Burman, 2013). And this ultimately led him to turn away from stages, as a metaphor, toward an upwardly-opening spiral (Burman, 2016). This then informed a unified view of child development and scientific change, which was published posthumously (Piaget & Garcia, 1983/1989). My present focus, however, is primarily on how a series of unpublished manuscripts set up the works that became the new theory. This is an archive-driven history, and requires frequent collaboration with my colleagues at the Archives Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva. (That’s where I found the unpublished manuscripts.) My intent is for this work to inform a Veni application in 2017-2018.

Researchers and partners

J.T. (Jeremy) Burman PhD, Theory and History of Psychology

Partners outside of the University of Groningen
  • Marc Ratcliff, University of Geneva


Other remarks on education
  • I have not yet had time to recruit thesis students to this project. I am new to the department.


  • Burman, J. T. (2013). Updating the Baldwin Effect: The biological levels behind Piaget’s new theory. New Ideas in Psychology, 31(3), 363-373. doi: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2012.07.003
  • Burman, J. T. (2016). Jean Piaget’s neo-Gödelian turn: Between biology and logic, origins of the New Theory. Theory & Psychology, 26(6), 751-772. doi: 10.1177/0959354316672595
  • Ratcliff, M. J., & Burman, J. T. (2015). De la geste archivistique au geste de l’historien : comment une politique d’archivage proxémique permet de retrouver un inédit disséminé. In J.-F. Bert & M. J. Ratcliff (Eds.), Frontières d’archives : recherche, mémoire, savoirs (pp. 131-144). Paris: Edition des archives contemporaines.
Successful grant proposals and other achievements
  • Elected to the Board of Directors of the Jean Piaget Society in 2014. Named to the editorial board of New Ideas in Psychology in 2016.

More information

  • I discovered new and unknown books by Jean Piaget
Last modified:29 March 2021 10.18 a.m.
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