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This essay is about Jean Piaget’s late theory, but it is also an advance of my broader historiographical argument regarding the role of intellectual history in uncovering our science’s still-relevant “neglected invisibles” (introduced in Burman, 2015). It does this by building on recent scholarship in the History of Biology to show how Historians of Psychology can contribute to contemporary science without falling prey to “presentism” (i.e. the bias introduced into historical narratives as a result of the framing afforded by contemporary concerns). To wit: when the present itself has been biased by past disciplinary politics, then it is not “presentist” to show that this bias exists. Nor is it presentist to follow the consequences of this biasing back to the original sources, and then highlight the resulting neglected invisibles that have continuing contemporary relevance. I do that, here, by leveraging recent scholarship showing that development was actively suppressed from the evolutionary discourse during the 20th century. Because this is starting to change, with the rise of “evo-devo” (the new synthesis of evolutionary and developmental biology that augments the old synthesis of Darwin and Mendel), and because the biological discourse provides meta-theory for evolutionary thinking in adjacent areas, the conditions of possibility for theory in psychology and epistemology are also changing: ideas that were once dismissed as unthinkable can be reconsidered in new light. Therefore, here, I turn to what Piaget called his “hazardous hypotheses,” and reexamine his long-neglected proposals—building on Baldwin and Waddington—for a single unifying evolutionary, developmental, psychological, and epistemological mechanism.

The handbook will cover how psychological ideas have evolved from past to present. The book will be organized much as an introductory-psychology text is, except that the goal of each chapter will be not merely to present the most recent theory and research, but rather the intellectual history of this theory and research.

The book will be an intellectual history of psychology, but whereas textbooks on the history of psychology are virtually all organized chronologically, with successive chapters covering the history of ideas in all of the fields combined at different times in the past, our volume will be organized topically, with history reviewed for each of the major topics of investigation in psychology. We believe the topical organization has a large advantage over a strictly chronological one, in that fields have evolved differently, and when one does a strictly chronological book, progress in each given field tends to be given short shrift in favor of generalities. Obviously, there is no one “right” way to organize an intellectual history, but we believe that our topical approach will provide readers with the most scholarly, comprehensive, and useful history of the field.

For better or worse (and we believe, for worse), students of psychology are learning less and less history of their field. The senior editor has authored several textbooks, and when he gets back reviews, the tendency almost always is for referees to recommend that historical material be cut back or even dropped. They may be responding to student preferences or their own ideas about pedagogy, but one scarcely can understand the present if one does not understand the past. George Santayana’s statement, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” applies equally well to the history of ideas as to the history of political and economic institutions. We believe that the subject matter of psychology demands historical scrutiny. The history of psychology allows us to see how psychological knowledge has been created and what role it has played in what people say and believe about being human, whether the topic is how they think, feel, or interact with each other.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Intellectual History of Psychology
EditorsRobert J. Sternberg, Wade Pickren
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9781108290876
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameCambridge Handbooks in Psychology
PublisherCambridge University Press


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  • Certificate of Academic Excellence

    Burman, J. (Recipient), Oct-2017

    Prize: National/international honourAcademic

  • Dissertation Prize

    Burman, J. (Recipient), 9-Jun-2017


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