Towards a philosophy of engineering: context, pluralism and paradox

Solomon, Fiona Louise (1997). Towards a philosophy of engineering: context, pluralism and paradox PhD Thesis, School of Engineering, University of Queensland.

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Author Solomon, Fiona Louise
Thesis Title Towards a philosophy of engineering: context, pluralism and paradox
School, Centre or Institute School of Engineering
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 1997
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Assoc. Prof. J.E. Holt
Abstract/Summary Engineering is absolutely central to the modern technological society as a source of physical, environmental and cultural change. As a part of the worldwide technological enterprise, engineering operates within a dynamic and complex system of stakeholders and paradigms. It is surprising then, that while science and to a lesser extent technology have been the objects of philosophical exploration, engineering has received very little of such focussed attention. This thesis aims to highlight the philosophical uniqueness of the engineering endeavour and to urge serious consideration of its fundamental place in this burgeoning world. The intellectual framework of this thesis is perspectivalism, constructed from aspects of social constructivist and feminist principles. The framework facilitates a conceptual analysis of engineering to create a sense of its inter-relationships. Four main contexts are proposed: the professional, the formative, the organisational and the cultural. Using a methodology of systemic connection of ideas as a backdrop to the contextual analysis, each of the contexts is probed in depth. The history and sociology of the profession is an implicit agent in the form and actions of engineering. The identity and influence of engineering discourses work to create form. Characteristics of the occupational setting impact greatly on the engineering process. Lastly, engineering is situated within a wider cultural milieu. By exploring these contexts, the web of ideas connecting the engineering endeavour becomes apparent. Characterising engineering as contextual expresses the inherent paradoxes which naturally emerge from pluralism. Paradox has its heritage in Western thought from the philosophies of Ancient Greece. There, the struggle between the "True" of Plato and the "Good" of the Sophists is examined and shown to have had enormous impact on perceptions of engineering today. Emerging from the exploration of context, pluralism and paradox, the thesis proposes that the foundations for a philosophy of engineering really must derive from a form of relativistic good rather than from concepts of ideal truth. Engineering, so commonly perceived as applied science, is demonstrated to be an independent entity with a philosophy of its own.

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