Science & Education

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 137–148 | Cite as

Piaget's epistemic subject and science education: Epistemological vs. psychological issues

  • Richard F. Kitchener


Many individuals claim that Piaget's theory of cognitive development is empirically false or substantially disconfirmed by empirical research. Although there is substance to such a claim, any such conclusion must address three increasingly problematic issues about the possibility of providing an empirical test of Piaget's genetic epistemology: (1) the empirical underdetermination of theory by empirical evidence, (2) the empirical difficulty of testing competence-type explanations, and (3) the difficulty of empirically testing epistemic norms. This is especially true of a central epistemic construct in Piaget's theory — the epistemic subject. To illustrate how similar problems of empirical testability arise in the physical sciences, I briefly examine the case of Galileo and the correlative difficulty of empirically testing Galileo's laws. I then point out some important epistemological similarities between Galileo and Piaget together with correlative changes needed in science studies methodology. I conclude that many psychologists and science educators have failed to appreciate the difficulty of falsifying Piaget's theory because they have tacitly adopted a philosophy of science at odds with the paradigm-case of Galileo.


Science Education Empirical Research Science Study Cognitive Development Empirical Test 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard F. Kitchener
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsU.S.A.

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