Some cognitive functions shared by humans and certain animals were acquired early in the course of phylogeny and, in humans, are operational in their primitive form shortly after birth. This is the case for the quantification of discrete objects. The further phylogenetic evolution of the human brain allows such functions to be reconstructed in a much more sophisticated way during child development. Certain functional characteristics of the brain (plasticity, multiple cognitive processes involved in the same response, interactions, and substitution relationships between those processes) provide degrees of freedom that open up the possibility of different pathways of reconstruction. The within- and between-individual variability of these developmental pathways offers an original window on the dynamics of development. Here, I will illustrate this theoretical approach to cognitive development—which can be called “reconstructivist” and “pluralistic”—using children’s construction of number as an example.
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