Transpersonal psychology and Piaget

I am not really surprised by the growing interest for transpersonal psychology by child psychologists. After all, transpersonal psychology can be seen as nothing but a holistic approach of the individual, i.e., an approach including his personality, attitudes, beliefs, and spirituality (yet to be defined). What is a bit odd is that piagetian psychologists have deviated from their interest in children to use the framework of transpersonal psychology to understand Jean Piaget the man. Here is my reaction to these attempts on a forum of the Jean Piaget Society (slightly revised) :

“I find this discussion about Piaget’s beliefs and possible religiosity quite stimulating, although I don’t clearly see what transpersonal psychology can bring to the understanding of Piaget (the man and the work). Of course I may miss something because I am culturally and geographically far from North America. Many of you seem to agree that Piaget was “religious” at least at some point in his younger years. Surely he was concerned with religion at the time of Recherche, and with discussions about protestantism — say — until the late 20ies, and at some point probably pictured himself as a kind of religious reformer. But does discussing his religion make him religious ? Wanting to change some religious mindset or culture-set only shows insatisfaction with his religion or religious culture. Surely, we can imagine an early religious disappointment, or even a disenchantment. But can we really evaluate (or characterize or explain) an author by what he experienced in his teens ? Does this tell anything significant about Piaget the scientist ? I note also that his religious beliefs in his teenage years were not overwhelming : if I follow Fernando Vidal, the young Piaget spent much more time observing and writing about the mollusks of the lake Neuchâtel than with spiritual matters. We also know that he was mocking his school friend Maurice Zundel— who later became a well-known theologian — naming him “the cleric” (http://jeanpiaget.ch/index-fr.html).

Many of you mention the “I still believe in immanence” Piaget responded to Bringuier. The question here is what he meant by immanence. For Jean-Jacques Ducret, Piaget’s conceptions of immanence rest on Brunschvicg’s ideas according to which nothing can be said about reality, as we only deal with thought. Piaget stuck to this idea all his life. This is the viewpoint he expressed when he was invited in the Moscow Academy of Science in the 50ies (see e.g., Insights and Illusions), and this probably why he was never interested in ontology (the problem for him was not reality as such but the way the epistemic subject constructs it, in other words, he always reduced ontology to psychology).

By immanence Piaget meant that it is within thought that men discover universal values that oblige them (they are not given to us by some transcendental entity).   Of course Piaget had beliefs, and surely some beliefs concerning the meaning of life, the origin of life, or of the universe. After all (almost) everybody does. But he insisted on the ”reasonable coordination of values” (Insights and Illusions), giving the impression that values are subordinate to reason. Surely, he believed in truth, “the first among the values”, as he said, repeating Lalande, and excluded a spiritual or religious access to the world. Piaget was looking for truth, more than trying to achieve (or to theorize about) some ethical or affective development. As far as other values are concerned, his main interest was in those that are guided by reason, such as moral values, (and values and norms emerging from interpersonal equilibria, cf. Sociological Studies) and not in esthetical, affective, or social values, for example, which are much less reasonable and more fluctuating. In short, it seems to me that Piaget cannot be seen under the prism of transpersonal psychology, both because he was not a transcendentalist (as I argued in a previous mail) and because he was not an immanentist in the religious sense but more a kind of an emergentist.”

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