3 Reasons Why Philosophy Should Matter to Engineers


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In this presentation at Royal Institute of Engineers at The Hague, David E. Goldberg examines why philosophy should matter to engineers. Engineers are practical people, and philosophical reflection has typically not been a part of engineering education or practice. This talk presents three arguments why this should change: (1) an argument from effective practice, (2) an argument from our creative era, and (3) an argument from professional self-awareness and self-confidence. In particular, Professor Goldberg argues that engineers without strong qualitative thinking skills are inadequately trained, that the fast pace of change in our times demands engineers who are conceptually agile, and that many of the status strivings and insecurities of the engineering profession are due to profound misunderstandings of engineering's place in the world, misunderstandings that can be ameliorated or eliminated with the conceptual clarity that philosophical reflection can provide.

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  • 3 Reasons Why Philosophy Should Matter to Engineers

    1. 1. 3 Reasons Why Philosophy Should Matter to Engineers<br />David E. Goldberg<br />Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry)<br />University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign<br />Urbana, IL 61801 USA<br />Email: deg@illinois.edu; Web: http://www.ifoundry.illinois.edu<br />1<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />
    2. 2. Launching a Book: Philosophy & Engineering<br />Launching a book today at the Royal Institute of Engineers of the The Netherlands, a book at intersection of philosophy & engineering.<br />Book outgrowth of 2007 Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering (WPE-2007) held at TUDelft.<br />2 observations and a question:<br />Engineers are practical people.<br />Philosophy not typically a part of engineering education or practice.<br />Why should philosophy matter to engineers?<br />Explore 3 reasons.<br />2<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />
    3. 3. © David E. Goldberg 2010<br />Roadmap<br />Origins of WPE-2007 in a blogpost.<br />Engineering and philosophy strange bedfellows: Why should philosophy matter to engineers?<br />3 reasons:<br />Argument from effective practice.<br />Argument fromacreative era.<br />Argument from self-awareness and self-confidence. <br />3<br />
    4. 4. Once Upon a Blog Post<br />Wrote a blog post in 24 May 2006 on www.entrepreneurialengineer.blogspot.com.<br />Wondered why there wasn’t a philosophy of engineering like there was a philosophy of science.<br />Response from the UK.<br />Pointer to a National Academy of Engineering committee.<br />Meeting in Fall 2006.<br />Ibo and I became co-chairs of Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering to be held at Delft. <br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />4<br />
    5. 5. © David E. Goldberg 2010<br />Philosophers, Engineers: Strange Bedfellows<br />5<br />Why should philosophy/philosophers matter to engineers?<br />
    6. 6. An Argument from Effective Practice<br />Engineering needs philosophy to improve professional practice.<br />Begin with the end in mind: Senior design. <br />Grinter report of 1955: more math & science, less design.<br /><ul><li>Illinois program started with Ford Foundation grant 1966.
    7. 7. Money ran out 1971 and industrial funding supports thereafter.</li></ul>Stephen R. Covey (b. 1932)<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />6<br />
    8. 8. A Special Moment: Ready, Set, Go<br /><ul><li>These are seniors.
    9. 9. Should be engineers on the threshold.
    10. 10. Express preferences for projects.
    11. 11. Get assigned to a project: 3-member teams & faculty advisor.
    12. 12. Go on the plant trip.
    13. 13. Query: What don’t they know how to do?
    14. 14. 20 years of coaching, here’s my list.</li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />7<br />
    15. 15. The Missing Basics of Engineering<br />After 4 years they don’t know how to<br />Question: Socrates 101.<br />Label: Aristotle 101.<br />Model conceptually: Hume 101 & Aristotle 102.<br />Decompose: Descartes 101.<br />Measure: Bacon-Locke 101.<br />Visualize/draw: da Vinci-Monge 101.<br />Communicate: Newman 101<br />Call these the missing basics (MBs) vs. “the basics” = math, sci, & eng sci.<br />Missing basics are in some sense more basic than “the basics.”<br />Philosophy useful in two ways: (a) reflection leads to list & (b) philosophical method as way to conceptual modeling and clarity.<br />Socrates (470-399 BCE)<br />8<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />
    16. 16. © David E. Goldberg 2010<br />Friedman, Florida, Pink & All That<br />Argument from a creative era.<br />Technoreconomicforces are encouraging globalization & shaking things up.<br />Cheap, technical talent hired Shanghai & Bangalore<br />The World is Flat, The Rise of the Creative Class, A Whole New Mind. <br />Returns to creativity particularly important.<br />Ordinary technical skill commoditized.<br />9<br />
    17. 17. Response to Crisis of Creative Age<br />Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, response to crisis:<br />“I think, particularly in periods of acknowledged crisis that scientists have turned to philosophical analysis as a device for unlocking the riddles of their fields. Some have not generally needed or wanted to be philosophers. Indeed, normal science usually holds creative philosophy at arm’s length, and probably for good reason…But that is not to say that the search for assumptions cannot be an effective way to weaken the grip of a tradition upon the mind and to suggest the basis for a new one.”<br />Engineering: It’s our turn.<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />10<br />Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)<br />
    18. 18. Philosophy: Crisis Response Tool<br />Scientists: New physics was disorienting and scientists turned to philosophy for “foundations.”<br />Engineers: Today’s technological world as disorienting as Einstein’s world was to scientists.<br />Centripetal force of the Os:<br />Bio & nano: Push toward more science: hypertrophy cold war paradigm. <br />Info: Shift toward new human-centered design.<br />Pace of change, breadth, and complexity of technological change is a challenge.<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />11<br />
    19. 19. Self-Awareness & Self Confidence<br />Engineering bought into view that engineering is “merely” applied math and science.<br />Design/practice ignored or diminished. <br />Academics seek statusnmath and science.<br />Practitioners seek status in business.<br />Neither group clear about nature of engineering.<br />Philosophy helps find other answers to “What is engineering?” question.<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />12<br />
    20. 20. Philosophy Reduces Status Anxiety<br />Story about WPE meeting in 2006 and engineer’s motives.<br />Wrong turns: Seeking status outside engineering. <br />Want others to appreciate us, but how can others appreciate us unless we appreciate ourselves.<br />Rotter’sdistinction internal versus external locus of control.<br />2 phase process:<br />Reflect more on what we do and how to do it better.<br />Stop seeking status and focus on being great engineers qua engineers. <br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />13<br />
    21. 21. Bottom Line<br />Engineers are practical & philosophy is useful in 3 ways:<br />Makes better engineers: better practice through systematic method & conceptual clarity.<br />As response to disorienting times ( by analogy to Kuhn)<br />As way for profession to be self-aware and self-confident (internal locus of control in place of status seeking).<br />For these reasons (and others) should incorporate philosophy into engineering education and practice now.<br />Hope book is helpful to that end.<br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />14<br />
    22. 22. For More Information<br />The Book: http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Engineering-Emerging-Agenda-Technology/dp/904812803X<br />Forum on Philosophy, Engineering & Technology, 9-10 May 2010 (Sunday Eve-Monday), Colorado School of Mines, www.philengtech.org. <br />Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (www.ifoundry.illinois.edu).<br />This powerpoint and other reflections at www.slideshare.net/deg511. <br />© David E. Goldberg 2010<br />15<br />