Publication 6216

Smith L. (1987) A constructivist interpretation of formal operations. Human Development 30(6): 341–354.
Piaget’s logical model of formal operations is problematic since it is unclear how Piaget’s logic should be understood. In a recent review, Braine and Rumain conclude that neither of the two available interpretations is adequate. Under one interpretation, formulae which should be compatible are incompatible in Piaget’s logic. Under the other interpretation, formulae which should be incompatible are compatible in Piaget’s logic. A constructivist interpretation is outlined so as to overcome these weaknesses. It is proposed that the attribution of formal operational thinking depends upon an individual’s generalization of classificatory abilities which are present during concrete operations. Each of the formal operations has a unique specification in terms of the 16 patterns inherent in such classifications. Access to formal operations does not require conscious awareness of propositional symbolism. The interpretation is shown to be minimally adequate in avoiding the objections which invalidate existing interpretations. The interpretation is taken to exemplify two features of Piaget’s constructivism, namely the differentiation and integration of understanding which has a modal character.
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