The Importance of Philosophy to Engineering Essay

8106 Words May 22nd, 2006 33 Pages
Philosophy has not paid sufficient attention to engineering. Nevertheless, engineering should not use this as an excuse to ignore philosophy. The argument here is that philosophy is important to engineering for at least three reasons. First, philosophy is necessary so that engineers may understand and defend themselves against philosophical criticisms. In fact, there is a tradition of engineering philosophy that is largely overlooked, even by engineers. Second, philosophy, especially ethics, is necessary to help engineers deal with professional ethical problems. A case study of ethics requirements for U.S. engineering curricula substantiates this point. Third, because of the inherently philosophical character of engineering,
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Engineers have, in general, so the critics contend, been polluting the natural world with toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases while flooding the human world with ugly structures and useless consumer products. 2
Martin Heidegger, one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, has even gone so far as to argue that all such ethical and aesthetic failures are grounded in a fundamental engineering attitude toward the world that reduces nature to resources in a dominating Gestell or enframing3. Heidegger is perhaps more subtle on this point than is always recognized. But on one common interpretation, Heidegger can be construed to say that Herbert Simon's "sciences of the artificial,"4 for example, promote a constrained and constraining ontology of mathematical reduction and an epistemology of virtual reality. Feminist critics have even associated engineering with patriarchal domination, the death of nature, and the loss of world-centering care.5
What such charges amount to is a major reactionary attack on the self-definition of engineering that goes back to the 18th century formulation of Thomas Tredgold, and is reiterated in such standard reference works as the Encyclopaedia Britannica and McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. According to the classic and still standard definition that engineers give of their own

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