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Engineering Realism: from a Micro-Meso-Macro Perspective

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Li Bocong's fPET-2010 presentation

Li Bocong's fPET-2010 presentation

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  • 1. Engineering Realism: from a Micro-Meso-Macro Perspective Li Bocong School of Humanities, Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • 2.
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Engineering realism
    • 2.1 Engineering reality
    • 2.2 Engineering community
    • 2.3 Engineering knowledge
    • 3 A micro-meso-macro framework
    • 3.1 The existing frameworks
    • 3.2 A new framework
    • 4 Conclusion
  • 3. 1 Introduction
    • About twenty years ago, Steven L. Goldman wrote two excellent articles on philosophy of engineering.
    • Goldman, Steven L. 1990. ‘‘Philosophy, Engineering and Western Culture.’’ in Broad and Narrow Interpretation of Technology , ed. Paul T. Durbin. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 125-152.
    • Goldman, Steven L. 1991. ‘‘The Social Captivity of Engineering.’’ in Critical Perspective on Nonacademic Science and Engineering , ed. Paul T. Durbin. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, pp. 121-145.
  • 4.
    • In the second article he wrote that philosophy of science , at that time, was a fully accepted and highly respected branch of philosophy, while philosophy of engineering carried as much professional distinction as philosophy of parapsychology.
  • 5.
    • However Goldman took an optimistic view of the future of philosophy of engineering. He holds that philosophy of engineering should be the paradigm for philosophy of science, rather than the reverse.
    • While my views on philosophy of engineering are similar to Goldman’s , the majority of philosophers, I guess, may doubt very much whether philosophy of engineering should be the paradigm for philosophy of science.
  • 6.
    • We must pay attention to an amazing and enlightening fact that while engineering as productive practice has a history of more than two millions years, science has a history of only about two thousands years. However the overwhelming majority of philosophers ignore the importance of engineering, which Goldman considered a strong Western prejudice.
  • 7.
    • Goldman expressly pointed out:“[T]he Western intellectual tradition display a clear preference for understanding over doing, for contemplation over operation, for theory over experiment.”He listed a series of evidences to show that there is a Western prejudice against engineering. Similar to Goldman, Cecelia Tichi called the engineer “the invisible man of American studies.”
  • 8.
    • I must point out that in a parallel with the Western prejudice there is also a similar Eastern prejudice, which means tremendous obstacles stand in the way of progress of philosophy of engineering .
    • We must admit that it is difficult to overcome the obstacles. However some scholars eventually have got the obstacles out of the way in order to establish philosophy of engineering.
  • 9.
    • In the beginning of 80s of last century I began to study philosophy of engineering. In 1992, When an international conference on philosophy of science was held in Beijing, I presented to the conference an essay entitled “A Short Introduction to engineering realism”. Two years later I published an article “I Create therefore I am” in which I expanded my idea. Now I am pleased that I have an opportunity to discuss again some issues relevant to engineering realism about eighteen years later.
  • 10.
    • In contrast with 90s of last century when there were only very few scholars who conducted researches in the field of philosophy of engineering, a growing number of philosophers and engineers began to pay more attention to the research of philosophy of engineering at the beginning of 21 st century.
  • 11.
    • Although philosophy of engineering is only a fledgling academic subdiscipline, it sets a ambitious goal because it challenges both the Western intellectual tradition and the Eastern intellectual tradition.
    • Although we should admit that philosophy of engineering is a subfield of philosophy, it is important to emphasize that the studies in philosophy of engineering also mean the studies in philosophy per se to a great extent.
  • 12.
    • That is to say, conducting researches in the field of philosophy of engineering, we must rethink, reconsider, reconstruct, reanimate and revive the existing theories and structure of philosophy. We should present new conceptions, new approach, new interpretation and new framework.
  • 13.
    • Without new frameworks and new ontological and methodological studies in philosophy of engineering from new perspectives there would not be such a subdiscipline properly called philosophy of engineering.
  • 14. 2 Engineering Realism
    • In 80s of last century philosophers had a heated argument about scientific reality. While some philosophers advocated scientific realism, others advocated antirealism. That time, inspired by scientific realism, I proposed engineering realism.
  • 15.
    • Although both scientific realism and engineering realism belong to realism, they are quite different.
    • A series of new concept has to be presented and discussed in the field of philosophy of engineering.
    • While the main issue of scientific realism consists in interpretation of scientific reality, the main issue of engineering realism consists in making of engineering reality.
    • What is engineering reality? What does the concept of engineering reality refer to?
  • 16.
    • I found that the progress from scientific realism to engineering realism means a Columbian navigation, a navigation from the land of philosophy of science to the land of philosophy of engineering, but not a Copernican revolution in the field of philosophy of science.
  • 17.
    • 2.1 Engineering reality
    • From my point of view, engineering reality consists of two kinds of reality: material engineering reality as results of engineering activities and social engineering reality as subjects carrying out engineering activities.
    • I have published an article explaining my thesis on enterprises as social reality.
    • Social Reality: Enterprise Serving as a Model. Philosophical Researches .5(2009):pp.104-110
  • 18.
    • 2.2 Engineering community
    • In the field of engineering realism, we must pay attention to engineering community.
    • Three years ago, during the period of the workshop held at Delft I told that we would publish a book, On Engineering Community: An Inquiry into Sociology of Engineering.
    • The book will be published by the end of this year.
  • 19.
    • It is noted that engineering projects are carried out by a group, or an engineering community, but not by a single individual. This is so important that it deserves special emphasis.
    • As a result of the fact that engineering projects are carried out by a team, a enterprise, or a firm, which means an engineering community, it is necessary that we give special priority to researches of engineering community in the field of philosophy of engineering.
  • 20.
    • The engineering community consists of engineers, investors, workers, managers, and other stakeholders.
    • It is a pity that the majority of philosophers only emphasis the role engineers play and neglect roles other members of engineering community play.
  • 21.
    • We must pay attention to the fact that without workers there would not be engineering community and engineering activities, without investors there would not engineering community and engineering activities, without managers there would not be engineering community and engineering activities, and without engineers, of course, there would not be engineering community and engineering activities.
  • 22.
    • 2.3 Engineering knowledge
    • Some philosophers and engineers have point out that engineering knowledge is different from scientific knowledge.
    • It is certain that engineering knowledge is of special importance in the field of philosophy of engineering.
  • 23.
    • In order to push forward advance of philosophy of engineering we must research engineering in a new framework, a micro-meso-macro framework.
  • 24. 3 A micro-meso-macro framework
    • 3.1 The existing frameworks
    • As regards frameworks, economics is a typical discipline. Generally speaking, there are three existing frameworks in economics, micro framework, macro framework, and micro-macro framework.
  • 25.
    • When economists study in microeconomics or in macroeconomics, they conduct researches in different frameworks.
    • The situation in the field of sociology is similar to that in economics.
    • In the field of ethics the dominant framework is micro framework.
  • 26.
    • Economists who advocate individual methodology debate with those who advocate holist methodology. Actually, those two kinds of methodology mean two different frameworks.
    • It is interesting that a big issue came up.
  • 27.
    • 3.2 A new framework
    • Although the terms “macro” and “micro” have been used in the field of economics for a long time, the term “meso” has almost not been used. About two decades ago, some economists put forward that a meso level is not only different from a macro level but also different from a micro level.
  • 28.
    • Some economists began to study mesoeconomics and laid stress on the importance of a meso level in 80s of last century. But until now they did not have a really wide influence.
    • Later Some scholars put forward a micro-meso-macro framework in the field of business ethics. Since then a few moralists, such as K. E. Goodpaster, R. Jeurissen and G. Enderle, have adopted the micro-meso-macro framework.
  • 29.
    • Ronald Jeurissen (1997) stetes: “The micro-level is the level of the individual in the organization. Meso is the level of the organization, its structure and culture. Macro is the level of institutions, the market, government, cultural traditions and the like.” Some business ethicists, including Ronald Jeurissen, Georges Enderle, emphasized the importance of integration of micro, meso and macro levels in the field of business ethics.
  • 30.
    • However Dopfer et al define the meso as a rule and its population of actualizations. The definitions of micro and macro by Dopfer et al are also different from those by Ronald Jeurissen to a limited extent.
  • 31.
    • K. Dopfer, J. Foster and J. Potts define a generic rule and its population of actualizations as a ‘meso unit’. In their view, “Micro involves a change in the composition and how they interact. Macro involves a change in the coordination structure among meso units.”
  • 32.
    • “ The essential point to grasp here is that macro is not a behavioural aggregation of micro, but, rather, it offers a system perspective on meso viewed as a whole. Similarly, micro is not the reduced essence of an economic system; it is a ‘bottom up’ systems perspective on meso when viewed in terms of its component parts. The economic system is built upon meso; micro and macro are two perspectives that reveal the structural aspects of the in the meso populations that constitute the elementary units of the economic system.” (p.267)
  • 33.
    • Now, we should extend the micro-meso-macro approach and the framework from the fields of economics and business ethics into the field of philosophy of engineering.
    • Because economists have not agree with each other about how to define micro, meso and macro, we must interpret clearly what micro, meso and macro mean in the field of philosophy of engineering.
  • 34.
    • In my point of view, micro generally refers to individuals, meso generally refers to engineering community and macro generally refers to nations even mankind.
  • 35.
    • Based on the micro-meso-macro framework, it is possible to treat many debatable and perplexing philosophical problems from a new perspective. We will gain a clearer conception of reality, realism, individualism, institutions, rules, shared knowledge, and so on.
  • 36. 4. Conclusion
    • (1)We must overcome obstacles to establish philosophy of engineering.
    • (2)Engineering realism and scientific realism are two different realisms.
  • 37.
    • (3) Engineering community consists of engineers, workers, managers, investors, and other stakeholders.
    • (4) We must consider engineering from a new perspectives, a micro-meso-macro perspective.
    • The micro-meso-macro framework means an important methodological and ontological progress in economics, business ethics and philosophy of engineering.
  • 38.
    • Engineering is an extremely complex phenomenon. For one thing, we should study engineering from different point of view , for example, philosophical, economic, sociological, managerial, institutional and psychological point of view; for another, we should study engineering on three levels, namely, microlevel, mesolevel and macrolevel.
  • 39.
    • Usually engineering is studied as a micro object. Now we should shift our attention from engineering as a micro object to engineering as a micro-meso-macro obeject.
  • 40.
    • from the linguistic point of view, it is not only “I”, “you”, “he” and “she”, but also “we”, “you” and “they” become subjects. In an engineering community individuals become members of the community. From the methodological and ontological point of view, an independent individual and the same people as a member of the community are both identical and separate.
  • 41.
    • Thank you !

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