Robert Kegan's the Evolving Self Problem and Process in Human Development Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Unrecognized Genius of Jean Piaget

Kegan reflects on the work of Jean Piaget, emphasizing the importance of his work. He first looks at Kegan's most famous study, in which he fills two identically shaped beakers with equal amounts of water. He then asks the child whether or not they are of equal volume, and when the child agrees, he pours the contents into a thinner beaker. The child then has to decide which has more, and usually opts for the taller and thinner beaker. Kegan is pointing out the relative adaptive balance that is being made by the child. Children have their own perceptions of the physical world, and often have difficulty discerning relative differences in shapes and forms, among other things. Kegan purports that, "For the preoperational child, it is never just one's perceptions that change; rather, the world itself, as a consequence, changes" (29).

Kegan then goes on to explore the concrete child or mature, developed child (usually around ten years of age). He explains that at this stage of development, children are more interested in the limits of the world, and vast exploration of their environment. Kegan writes, "From our more evolved point-of-view we might say it is an exploration along a plane without recognition of the third dimension" (36). The concrete child has the ability to coordinate, and take empirical evidence and use it for equating similarities and differences. The concrete child has the ability to see processes, how they transpired, and how they can be reversed. Kegan writes, "This new subjectivity can now construe the world propositionally, hypothetically, inferentially, abstractly" (38).

These are observations initially made by Piaget that were so revolutionary in the analysis of mental and cognitive development. Kegan points out that Piaget's vision derives from a model of open-systems evolutionary biology. He writes, "Rather than locating the life force in the closed individual or the environmental press, it locates a prior context which continually elaborates the distinction between the individual and the environment in the first place" (43). In other words, when analyzing cognitive development, we need to focus not solely on the environment or brain, but rather on both as intertwining entities.

Piaget's framework was based around equilibration, or the ongoing conversation between the human and the world. This, Kegan notes, is a process of adaptation shaped by the tension between the assimilation of different experiences to inherent conceptions of the world. He says that while this process can be described as completely biological, it cannot be ignored that it is essentially grounded in experience. Our emotions: loss, recovery, anxiety, depression, and happiness, stem from action rather than biology.


Piaget's framework is very easy to relate to. While biology is certainly a key factor in our cognitive development, we also cannot ignore the importance of environment. We are raised according to culture, paradigms, and most importantly, the principles of those around us. We are not products of biology, but rather of experience. For example, I define my life by action. Everything that has been pivotal in my life has been some sort of experience. It is experience that produces my emotions, and most likely was the original developer of emotions.

There is kind of an ambiguity in that, biologically speaking, the individual can be separated from experience, but at the same time, it cannot. It really depends on the framework used to define cognitive development. If one chooses that of a biologist, he or she would have to opt against Piaget's vision, but if one chooses that of experience, he or she is conforming to his standards of development analysis.

As previously mentioned, I agree with Piaget's framework. Experience is the catalyst in our cognitive development. I almost think biology could play a very small degree in this. For example, different environments tend to produce different minds, as opposed to biology. Certainly, the chemical reactions of our mind have some influence on our thinking, but experience has to be the predominant source.

Chapter 2: The Evolution of Moral Meaning

This chapter begins with Kegan's analysis of both the sophistication and immaturity displayed by children presented with a moral story. The students showed an aptitude for feelings, especially those of good and bad. They recognized when the character in the story was happy, and when he was depressed. They instinctively knew that the former was better. They were able to put themselves in the characters mind in order to judge his feelings.

The preoperational child, on the other hand, does not have the ability to place themselves in the position of a character from a story. They cannot distinguish other perceptions while still being themselves. This is called the first Kohlberg stage, or the social correlate. Kegan defines it as, "the inability to distinguish between the other and my perception of the other, and the inability to get behind y perceptions and see the other as himself having to do with his properties" (51).

Kegan goes on to analyze the other Kohlberg stages as they relate to development and moral aptitude. He comes to a crossroad in that at the latter stages of development, which theoretically are both equivalent, produce different actions in children. Kegan tries to interpret this by inferring that commitment is the deciding factor. As he puts it, "Although concern for friends or loyalty to parents has some temporal dimension -- that is, the concern and loyalty may persist in the absence of the friend or the parent -- the commitment that has its origin in the physical presence of the other, is bound to shared space" (58). In other words, the idea of commitment is the variable when it comes to different moral decisions in the later Kohlberg stages.

He concludes that development is not only a matter of differentiation, but also reintegration. In other words, we reintegrate into a wider system of meaning when distinguishing moral values. These values, according to Kohlberg, "do not make the law or the maintenance of the group ultimate, but rather orient to a process by which the laws are generated, to which they can be appealed for modification on behalf of equally protecting the dignities of and opportunities of all parties" (67).


thought the end of this chapter, where he deals with how we orient ourselves, was the most interesting. Kegan brings up the idea that, while we differentiate ourselves according to our country, environment, culture, family, ect, we also integrate ourselves to the greater meaning of "society." Our affection to our relative groups is not ultimate, but rather fairly fragile. It does not control our lives like many previous intellectuals have inferred. Instead, we have a general sense of integration to all of society, and all so-called "groups."

He tells the story about the Israeli doctor, and his approach to treating Arab soldiers. He has a partiality to treat the Israeli wounded, but at the same time, he feels as if it is his duty to help the wounded Arab. Whether this is inherent, or learned, I do not know. But what is interesting is that he is identifying an affection shared by all humans, for all humans.

This, Kegan infers, might be a step of evolution that all human beings go through. It could be deeply-embedded, inherent beliefs in all humans that there are a certain set of moral rules. It is possible that these are not learned. I believe this to be the case. I think that cognitive development might refine our outlooks on morals, but the basis for them is instilled in us from birth. We can tell right and wrong from an early age. We know to identify happiness as goodness, and depression as bad.

Chapter 3: The Constitution of the Self.

In this chapter, Kegan sorts out the ideas of "self" and "others." He points out that the inability to differentiate between the two can be traced back to early cognitive development. Kegan describes it as, "Recurring issues of differentiation and integration throughout life come to b understood as the consequences, reflections, or offspring of this earliest period. The recognition of this crucial era prior even to the oedipal years has led in effect to a restatement of Freud's dictum: now it is the infant who is father to the man" (75).

He counters this argument later in the chapter, though, by saying that early infancy is not qualitatively different from any other moment in the lifespan. The fundamental aspect is not the stage of life, but rather the activity of meaning-constitutive evolution. He says that infancy initiates themes that are traced through one's lifespan, but it is by no means a determiner of one's cognitive self.

Newborns, Kegan asserts, live in an objectless world where everything is taken to be an extension of one's self. The infant's "binding energy" is moved from him or her, to another object. As Kegan puts it, "The infant's natural narcissism, or self-absorption, gradually comes to an end as he withdraws an attachment to himself in favor…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Robert Kegan's The Evolving Self Problem And Process In Human Development" (2003, May 08) Retrieved January 22, 2018, from

"Robert Kegan's The Evolving Self Problem And Process In Human Development" 08 May 2003. Web.22 January. 2018. <>

"Robert Kegan's The Evolving Self Problem And Process In Human Development", 08 May 2003, Accessed.22 January. 2018,