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What's Good for the Engineering Goose is Good for the Philosophical Gander
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What's Good for the Engineering Goose is Good for the Philosophical Gander


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Presentation at fPET-2010 by David E. Goldberg considers 3 criticisms of engineers by philosophers, abstracting the arguments used, and then turning them around and applying them to philosophers. The …

Presentation at fPET-2010 by David E. Goldberg considers 3 criticisms of engineers by philosophers, abstracting the arguments used, and then turning them around and applying them to philosophers. The result suggests the need for a silver rule of interdisciplinary consistency

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  • 1. What’s Good for the Engineering Goose is Good for the Philosophical Gander
    David E. GoldbergIllinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbana, IL 61801 USA
  • 2. Philosophy & Engineering Interdisciplinary
    Trained as engineer.
    Really have enjoyed interdisciplinary interaction.
    Been stimulated to think deeply about many things.
    Was stimulated by Carl Mitcham’s WPE-2008 paper entitled “The Philosophical Weakness of Engineering as a Profession.”
    Answered with “Is Engineering Philosophically Weak? A Linguistic & Institutional Analysis,” SPT-2009.
    Found that arguments made to criticize engineering/engineers didn’t hold up very well when turned around on philosophers.
    Wanted to explore this “turnabout-as-fair-play” more fully.
    Importance: (a) much PhilTech critical, (b) promote better collaboration and work.
    Title & gender comment.
    Carl Mitcham at WPE-2008
  • 3. Roadmap
    A lesson from the late Jay Rosenberg.
    Method of this paper.
    3 case studies:
    Consequential ethical urgings.
    M. Davis’s definition of engineering as relative to to other occupation/professions.
    C. Mitcham’s assertion of priority for humanistic PhilEngv. enginPhilEng.
    A silver rule for crossdisciplinary consistency.
  • 4. An Engineer & Philosophical Method
    Hard to bootstrap into another field.
    Early aid: Jay Rosenberg’s book.
    Remember that philosophers like to “hoist others on their own petard.”
    Not general inquiry (Bartlett, 1988).
    Interested in whether arguments by philosophers re engineers can be turned around.
  • 5. Method of this Paper
    4 steps:
    Consider an argument made about engineers, engineering, or technology.
    Abstract essential elements about the argument along a number of key dimensions.
    Apply abstracted argument to philosophers.
    Evaluate whether argument is sensible in new context.
    Not the categorical imperative.
    More of a test for cross-disciplinary hypocrisy or inconsistency.
    Will arguments by philosophers that seem reasonable for “those engineers” look different for “us philosophers?”
    Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
  • 6. Case 1: Ethical Urgings/Polemics
    Consider prevalence of consequential ethical urgins & polemics in PhilTech.
    Rise of philosophy of technology as organized field in the 70s-80s had critical leanings.
    Engineers taken to task for ill effects of unintended consequences of tech.
    Follows bad engineer schema.
  • 7. Bad Engineer Schema
    3 elements:
    Engineer X was instrumental to the creation of artifact Y.
    Y had Z damaging unintended uses or consequences.
    X should have anticipated Z by modifying or not inventing or creating Y.
    Of course, not advocating that engineers not try to minimize ill consequences.
    Easy to criticize others for their failings of omission.
    What about philosophers?
  • 8. Bad Philosopher Schema
    3 elements:
    Philosopher X was instrumental to the creation of idea Y.
    Y was applied and had Z damaging unintended uses or consequences.
    X should have anticipated Z by modifying or not inventing or creating Y.
    Can’t hide by saying intended Y was intended as “mere idea” or “used by others.”
    Ideas often instrumental.
    Engineer responsible for unintended uses/consequences of artifacts aren’t philosophers responsible for unintended uses/consequences of ideas?
  • 9. Case 2: Defining Engineers Instituionally
    M. Davis, Thinking Like an Engineer, Oxford, 1999.
    Uses institutional definition of engineer.
    Close reading definitions are shifty.
    Depends upon (a) advanced knowledge, (b) professional standing & (c) contrast to other occupations/professionals.
    Insists upon use of term “protoengineer” for those who come before “engineers” in Davis’s sense.
    Michael Davis (b. 1943)
  • 10. Davis’s Method of Defining
    3 elements:
    Rejects going back to origins of technology: “We will understand the professions better if we start their history with the rise of modern markets…” (Davis, 1999, p.9).
    Compares and contrasts different occupations/professions to elicit significant features: architect v. engineer, scientist v. engineer, lawyer v. engineer.
    Does not study precursors (“protoengineers”) in depth: e.g., Refusal to consider Vitruvius engineering work as engineering.
    How does this work for philosophy/philosophers?
  • 11. Davis’s Method Applied to Philosophy
    3 elements:
    Division of labor: Must reject study of philosophy/philosophers until there is clear academic division of labor: Birth of the modern university (University of Bologna, 1088).
    Compare & contrast: Philosophy was a catchall phrase. Probably need to wait for division of labor in 18-19th century.
    Ignore precursors: Cannot study guild-like apprenticeships conferred by Plato in the Academy or Aristotle in Lyceum.
    Conclusion: Socrates, Plato & Aristotle cannot be called philosophers.
    Must call them protophilosophers.
    Sorcrates (469 BC – 399 BC)
    Early Protophilosopher
  • 12. Case 3: Humanistic PhilTech Priority
    First reading of Mitcham’sThinking through Technology was puzzled.
    Scholarship lovely.
    Didn’t understand underlying organizing principle.
    3 parts:
    Engineering PhilTech.
    Humanistic PhilTech.
    Claim priority humanistic over engineering.
  • 13. Seems like Violation of 20th Century Project
    Needed to come to terms with 20th century project of the humanities.
    Carl’s claim seemed like violation of the rules.
    Caricature version:
    Different perspectives helpful (Nietzsche).
    No truth with “T” (Rorty)
    All claims of privilege are suspect (Lyotard).
    Different strokes for different folks (TV).
    Surprised to see “humanistic” perspective privileged over “engineering.”
    2 possibilies:
    Either Carl being judgmental in old-fashioned 19th century sense.
    Thought he was making a solid argument.
    Carl Mitcham (b. 1941)
  • 14. 2 Δ Claims of Privilege
    Concedes enginPhilTech first in labeled fact: “Engineering philosophy of technology…may well claim primogeniture.” (p. 39).
    2 ways Humanities PhilTech has priority over engineering
    “order of conception” (p. 39)
    “primacy” seems to indicate that humanistic perspective trumps the engineering. (p. 39)
  • 15. Disposing of Conception Priority
    Uses Bacon, but Bacon explicitly was inspired by the “mechanical arts” as way out of scholastic deadend.
    Argumentation as Engineering argued priority of technology over speech as first externalization of human thought.
    Linguocentrism of philosophy a key bias.
    Language just one kind of technology (IT).
    The whole project of the humanities rests on technology.
    Oldowan Tools 2.5mya
  • 16. Primacy Claim
    Humanities view trumps engineering, but why?
    Clue: “In some sense, of course, it is unfair to appropriate the term `humanities’ for non-engineering philosophy of technology.” (p. 63)
    Mitcham’s method:
    Choose word “humanities” that is bigger and more all encompassing to describe non-engineering perspective (all human, not all engineers).
    Choose a narrow term, “engineering,” to describe the other.
    Desired value judgment follows immediately upon labeling.
  • 17. Try a Different Semantic Lens
    The carrying capacity of the planet prior to agriculture was ~1M-10M people.
    Today’s population is 6,820M.
    Therefore roughly 6,810M people owe their survival to agriculture and post-agricultural technology.
    Let’s make Mitcham’s engineering vs. non-engineering distinction using different terms.
  • 18. Relabeling: Survival vs. Aesthetic
    Goldberg’s reframing of 2 types of PhilTech:
    Survival PhilTech. Given that technology is fundamental to the survival of 6,810M people, lets call internal philosophical understanding of technology Survival PhilTech.
    Aesthetic PhilTech. Given that the external view is largely about minor qualitative differences in the quality of life for those living, lets call external philosophical understanding of tech Aesthetic PhilTech.
    Survival PhilTech “obviously” has primacy over Aesthetic PhilTech.
  • 19. Am I Serious in My Conclusions?
    3 turnabouts:
    Philosophers should be held accountable for their ideas.
    Socrates was protophilosopher, not a philosopher.
    Engineering (survival) PhilTech privileged over humanities (aesthetic) PhilTech.
    Yes (at least a little bit), no (but don’t call early engineers, protoengineers), no (but don’t claim unconditional primacy/privilege for humanities (aesthetic) PhilTech.
  • 20. Loose Reasoning Was Once OK
    This was OK in the good ole days:
    Post WW2 days, a strictly disciplinary world.
    Bad thinking never challenged.
    Preaching to the choir & lotsa head nodding.
    Today’s interdisciplinary world
    is more diverse intellectually,
    More creative and requires tighter arguments.
    Recommends a silver rule of cross-disciplinary consistency.
  • 21. Silver Rule of Cross-Disciplinary Consistency
    Golden rules positive, aspirational (Do unto others).
    Silver rules negative, proscribe things you would not have done to you.
    Silver Rule of Cross-Disciplinary Consistency. Do not criticize or characterize other disciplines, discipline members, or disciplinary results in ways you would not have done to yours.
    Not speaking out or against criticism.
    Criticism can be creative, particularly in dialectic.
    But inter- and cross-disciplinary work requires seeing things through the eyes of others to do better work and move beyond shibboleths of disciplinary thinking.
  • 22. Bottom Line
    Critical perspective useful, but risks inconsistency or hypocrisy without caution.
    Rise of interdisciplinary study of Philosophy & Engineering, more diverse audience for work.
    May be useful to test results (both ways) for cross-disciplinary consistency.
    Silver rule can help (a) promote increased collaboration and (b) sharpen research results.
  • 23. More Information
    TEE, the book.
    © David E. Goldberg 2009