New Paper (2023): Piaget’s Paradox: Adaptation, Evolution, and Agency

Human Development

In this paper, published open access in Human Development, Denis Walsh addresses Piaget’s theory of equilibration and its significance in overcoming the Modern Synthesis, as an object theory, for an agent theory of evolution.

Abstract: Piaget’s Behaviour and Evolution (1976) sought to reconcile the view that organismal adaptiveness – in the form of equilibration – could contribute to human behavioural, cognitive, and epistemic evolution with the prevailing evolutionary orthodoxy of the time. He was particularly concerned to demonstrate that human behaviour, cognition, and knowledge acquisition could be drivers of human evolution. Piaget hypothesised constructive role for organisms in evolution was significantly at variance with the prevailing modern synthesis orthodoxy of his time (and ours). He looked to Conrad Hal Waddington’s genetic assimilation as a model for how equilibration could generate evolutionary novelties which become fixed by subsequent evolution. I make two claims. Firstly, that Piaget’s appeal to Waddington fails to reconcile his views of human evolution with the modern synthesis. Secondly, the newly emerging agential conception of evolution, in which the purposive activities of organisms are the principal causes of evolution, offers strong support to Piaget’s model of “organisational” evolution.