A Comparison between the Ideas of Mulla Sadra and those of Piaget in Psychology

Ali Shariatmadari

Piaget as a psychologist began his studies in the field of biology, and along with his inquires into the biological and physical development of children, explained their psychological and intellectual development. In order to have a clear idea of Piaget’s theory of development of children, we explain hereunder his views on various phases of children’s development:

1.  Intelligential, sensory-motor phases form (from birth to the age of 2)

In this phase, child’s behavior is principally based on movement. A child is unable to make out the events because of his internal (psychological) conditions. Although a child’s Cognitive development is taking place within him in the form of patterns, he is unable to think in conceptual manner.

2. Preoperational phase of thought (age of 2 to 7)

The features of this phase are the development of language and other symbolic forms (presentations), as well as rapid conceptual development. Furthermore, reasoning or intellection is semi-logical in this phase.

3. Phase of sensory-operation (age of 7 to 11)

In this phase, child develops within himself, the power of applying logical thoughts to his sensory experiences.

4. Phase of formal operation (abstraction) (age of 11 to 15)

In this phase, cognitive structures will reach the highest level of development, and child is capable of applying logical reasoning to all his various experiences and problems. (source B, 1963).[1]

In one of his books, Piaget describes the interrelation modes of various phases as follows: 

“In general, it should be emphasized that behavioral patterns, peculiar to each phase do not succeed one after another, in a sense that the former pattern has to disappear before the latter pattern can succeed the former. On the contrary, the latter pattern is added to the former in the shape of layers of a pyramid, either in an upward or downward direction, for the purpose of their completion, rectification, or synthesization (source C, 1952).”[2]                              

The author of the book entitled, Piaget's Theory of Cognitive & Affectional Development describes Piaget’s outlook both on the intelligence or reason, and on its cognitive and affectional aspects.  In Piaget’s opinion, the cognitive aspect consists of three parts: i.e. content, function, and structure. Piaget suggests three kinds of knowledge: i.e. (a) knowledge of characteristics of objects, which is resulted from actions on objects; (b) knowledge of logic-mathematics, which has been built up on the outcome of actions on objects; (c) social knowledge which is related to objects born of culture.  Any kind of knowledge is dependent upon an action, whether physical or psychological. Measures that are instrumental in the process of development, are those that affect the equilibrium which, in turn, gives rise to efforts conducive to the return of that equilibrium. Gravitation and adaptation are factors of perfect balance which of themselves help the process of development.

To help the process of development take place, four factors and their interactions are required: Perfect development, active experience, social interaction, and equilibrium. Intellectual or cognitive development, as a permanent process, may be classified into four categories for the purpose of its appreciation and analysis. Affectional development (of emotions, feelings, and desires) is created in the same manner as intellectual development. In other words, affectional structures are created in the same manner as intellectual structures. Emotions are responsible for the stimulation or activation of intellectual activities, and they occur on objects and events.[3]                           

A few points about intellectual development in sensory-motor phase

At the time of birth, child’s behavior is a reflective one. In the second month, he recognizes simple differences between the objects that are present in the surrounding environment within his reach. From 6th to 8th month, the acts of seeing and touching are harmonized for the first time. At the end of the first year, he will have knowledge not only of stability of objects, but also of himself, and of other objects causing events to occur. Two or several behavioral patterns are harmonized to solve current problems. At the end of the 2nd year, child is able to present objects and events in his imagination. Piaget believes that, in this phase, child creates physical knowledge. Child’s intellectual development in sensory-motor phase occurs in consequence of his action on environment. His action is spontaneous. He acts from internal motive. Organization and concordance of gravitation and adaptation processes bring about qualitative and quantitative changes in behavioral patterns.  

It is to be noted that intellectual development is a self-regulating process. Processes of gravitation and adaptation are controlled from within and not externally. Moreover, intellectual development presupposes adaptation.

A few points on intellectual development in preoperational phase

Qualitatively, intellectual development in preoperational phase is more advanced as compared to sensory-motor phase,. In this phase, thinking becomes a matter of routine. Successions of behavioral patterns are mostly determined and performed in the head rather than on physical events. Sense perception, however, dominates reasoning. Power of language develops rapidly during the ages of two to four. Child’s behavior in this period is more personal than social.

During the ages of six to seven, children’s conversations will be of a more communicative and social nature. In this period, thinking process is under the control of the existing environment as well as sense perception.

Intellectual reasoning with cognition at the level of preoperational phase is semi-logical. Child’s understanding of laws, justice, and of other norms of moral reasoning is semi-logical as well.

A few points on intellectual development during the phase of sensory operation

The phase of sensory operations is a temporary one which exists between preoperational thinking and formal (logical) thinking. In this period, a child, for the first time, is enabled to make use of logical operations. Thinking process is no longer dominated by sense perception. Hence, child is able to solve existing sensory problems that he has experienced. Child’s thinking is not personal during this phase like preoperational phase. Children are capable of entertaining other ideas during the phase of sensory-operations. Conversational language has social and communicative aspects. Children are able to make their sense perceptions appropriate, and take note of transformations. Moreover, regression of thinking as well as two significant intellectual operations, i.e. systematic arrangement, and classification that constitute the basis of numerical concepts, will take place during this period. Development of will-power enables regulation of affectional reasoning to become possible. Independence, reasoning, and affection in social relations, which encourage mutual respect will continue to exist. Child increasingly evaluates controversial ideas and does not admit unilateral thoughts. This process leads to his conscious decision making and consideration of motives when expressing his ideas. Development of moral concepts such as those regarding rules and regulations, lying, coincidences, and justice is observed in children.     

A few points on intellectual development during the phase of formal operation

Formal operations that usually begin at the age of 12 and are completed at the age of 16 and thereafter are based on sensory operations which expand the development process of the former through synthesization. While thinking governs logico-sensory-reflective operations, it is confined to sensory world. With the development of formal operations, reasoning is released from the bonds of content and sensory impressions. Formal reasoning is capable of confronting possible, probable, and real affairs.

Practical-sensory thinking is a reciprocal thinking. Reciprocity and regression operate independently. These two kinds of process are coordinated in formal thinking.

During formal operations, several structures appear in the mind. Hypothetico-deductive reasoning of faculty of intellection deals with hypothetical and objective matters, and with the ability to infer consequences from hypothetical antecedents. The act of scientific-inductive thinking is a kind of inference from the particular to the general. This kind of thinking is usually peculiar to scientists. Formal intellection examines all probable relations within the framework of sensory and hypothetical problems. Intellectual abstraction is abstraction of new knowledge from the existing one, which has been acquired through thinking. Intellectual abstraction journeys ahead of noticeable affairs and is regarded as primary instrument of logico-mathematical knowledge.

During formal operations, two fundamental contents are originated, i.e. propositional or synthetical, and practico-formal patterns. Propositional reasoning is similar to common propositional logic. This kind of operations is abstract and systematic. Practico-formal patterns such as proportionality and probability are more similar to scientific reasoning. They are less abstract as compared to propositional reasoning. Piaget believes that all ordinary people possess the ability to perform formal operations during adolescence and manhood. Development of normative feelings, independence, and will-power during the process of sensory operations leads to formation of the structure of ideal feelings and to further development of personality during the process of formal operations. Formation of personality in a child is rooted in the system of his own self-made regulations and values. Personality reflects individual’s efforts to adapt himself to the social world of adulthood. This is attained to a certain extent by “subjecting” himself to self-discipline.[4]

Mulla Sadra’s views on soul-body relation

Considering the nature of the soul, Mulla Sadra suggests[5] that the soul, primarily, possesses a bodily aspect, but based on trans-substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah) and in line with the development of the soul, it takes up psychological and intellectual aspect.

Contrary to positivist psychologists who confine all human activities to the activities of the senses, Piaget takes notice of intellectual activities performed from the very beginning of bodily development, and discusses sense perceptions along with intellectual perceptions.

Concerning perceptual forms, Mulla Sadra says:[6] “As we reasoned, the sensible, to anyone who senses it, is the very immaterial perceptive form that is existent in the matter of an object.”

According to the above remark, Mulla Sadra considers that form, ensued from man’s encounter with external objects, is immaterial.

Also in his dialogue with Brangue,[7] and in reply to a question raised by the latter, Piaget stresses the importance of external factors (i.e. environment) and internal factors as follows:

 They are both of equal significance, and are inseparable. It is the recognition of an interaction between man and object. I believe, however, that man can not be confined in a strict structure forever and in a state of anticipated anxiety, on the assumption that everything has been predetermined in his mind. I believe that man builds up his own recognition, and his own structures, which will be discussed by us later on.[8]

He says in another part of the same book:

An object is a limit in mathematical sense. Man is constantly getting closer to the outer self of an object, but he will not be able to reach its inner self. The object which man has assumed to reach is invariably the object that has been imagined and interpreted by his experimental intelligence (intellect).[9] 

With regard to an approach to structuralism, he adds elsewhere: “Yes it is so, absolutely so. Recognition is neither a copy of an object, nor an advance warning about forms predetermined in experiments. Biologically speaking, it is rather a constant formation ensuing from reciprocation both between organisms and environment, and between thought and object epistemologically.  

Mulla Sadra says:[10]

And reason demonstrates that the perceiver of particular forms which are created in the senses, is neither a sense, nor a sensory instrument; it is rather the very soul itself.

Concerning the levels of the soul, he adds:[11]

And when a child is born of his mother, his soul is at the level of animal soul, or at the beginning of external maturation. He is, at this stage, a human animal in actuality, whereas he is potentially a psychical human. Then his soul becomes perceiver of objects, as a result of thoughts and observations that are applied to practical intellect. However, this same procedure subsists till the early part of spiritual maturation.

With regard to the faculties of imagination, estimation, and remembrance, he considers the distinction between the faculty of estimation and that of intellect (‘aql) to be lying in the relation of intellect to particular agent, and does not regard same opposed to intellect. “It is to be noted that we believe the faculty of estimation to be different from the faculties mentioned before, and that it neither has essence, nor is it in opposition to intellect. It rather involves the relation of intellectual essence to particular entity, and the dependence of the former upon the latter, and the management of particular affairs. Therefore, the faculty which is dependent upon the faculty of imagination is, indeed, the faculty of estimation, just as what are perceived by the faculty of estimation are the very general meanings that are related to the forms of imaginary entities. Furthermore, faculty of estimation lacks any essence other than intellect, in just the same way that natural universal and essence, by virtue of their realities, are other than external or intellectual being.”[12]



[1]. Wadsworth J. Barry, 1989, 4th ed., Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive & Affective Development, Longman, p. 25, New York & London.

[2]. Ginslurg P. Herbert & Sylvia Opper, 1988, 3rd ed., Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development, by Prentice Hall, A Division of Simon & Schuster Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632.

[3]. Beringia Clude, translators: Dr M. Mansur, Dr P. Dadsetan, Fall 1986, Free Disputes with Jean Piaget, published by Hadaf Co. Tehran, pp. 31-32.

[4]. M. M. Dadsetan, 1988, Piaget’s Outlook on the Ground of Psychological Development, enclosed with functional experiments in genetic and clinical researches, Darya Publication, Tehran.

[5]. 1st part from the 4th journey, p. 347.

[6]. 4th section, 8th ch., p. 192.

[7]. Free Disputes with Jean Piaget, Persian translation.

[8]. Mullà Sadrà, 1383 H. Q. al-Hikmat al-muta’àliyah fi ’l-asfàr al-‘aqliyyah al-arba‘ah, 3rd section from the 1st journey, Dar al-Marrif al-Islamiyah co., Tehran.

[9]. Mullà Sadrà, Ibid., 3rd section from the 4th journey, Dar al-Ihyyah al-Turth al-Arabi, Beirut.

[10]. Fi qà‘idah nastaelum minhà ta‘adud al-qawi, ch. 5, p. 66.

[11]. Ibid., ch. 10, p. 136.

[12]. Ibid., ch. 3, pp. 215-216.

*Mullà Sadrà applies the same point to vision and imagination. In the 8th section, 1st ch., he asserts, “It seems you know that vision conceives sights not through descriptive definition of forms in the external world only. The faculty of imagination also perceives forms and corporeal souls, but not through the impression of those forms on intellect.  


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