The Engineering Project

The Engineering Project: Its Nature, Ethics, and Promise

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Engineering Project
    Book Description:

    We all live our daily lives surrounded by the products of technology that make what we do simpler, faster, and more efficient. These are benefits we often just take for granted. But at the same time, as these products disburden us of unwanted tasks that consumed much time and effort in earlier eras, many of them also leave us more disengaged from our natural and even human surroundings. It is the task of what Gene Moriarty calls focal engineering to create products that will achieve a balance between disburdenment and engagement: “How much disburdenment will be appropriate while still permitting an engagement that enriches one’s life, elevates the spirit, and calls forth a good life in a convivial society?”One of his examples of a focally engineered structure is the Golden Gate Bridge, which “draws people to it, enlivens and elevates the human spirit, and resonates with the world of its congenial setting. Humans, bridge, and world are in tune.” These values of engagement, enlivenment, and resonance are key to the normative approach Moriarty brings to the profession of engineering, which traditionally has focused mainly on technical measures of evaluation such as efficiency, productivity, objectivity, and precision. These measures, while important, look at the engineered product in a local and limited sense. But “from a broader perspective, what is locally benign may present serious moral problems,” undermining “social justice, environmental sustainability, and health and safety of affected parties.” It is this broader perspective that is championed by focal engineering, the subject of Part III of the book, which Moriarty contrasts with “modern” engineering in Part I and “pre-modern” engineering in Part II.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05476-6
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Engineering is the practice of making good on the promise of technology. Technology, throughout history, has promised relief from the burdens of everyday life. Engineering practice has brought us an array of time- and labor-saving devices. The telephone, for instance, lifts the burden of distance between friends, family, neighbors, and others. In characterizing technology asdisburdening, philosopher of technology Albert Borgmann also points to itsdisengagingcharacter, which implies that typically we need have only minimal connection to or involvement with engineered devices, and these in turn have minimal connection to or involvement with the worlds in which they are...

      (pp. 13-42)

      In the premodern era, which lasted roughly from the time of the pyramids to the heyday of the medieval cathedral, engineering processes of a basic sort did exist. Engineers had a kind of knowing that can be described as know-how, which was embedded in skills of various sorts. In building their aqueducts, for instance, Roman engineers had to know how to locate sources of water. They had to know how to dig tunnels. They had to know how to construct pumps. They had to know how to purify water. They acquired this know-how as apprentices, through experience, or by trial...

      (pp. 43-74)

      In this chapter, I discuss the ethics of the modern engineering process. Concern with professionalism mandates an ethical component within the enterprise of engineering. Most professions, engineering included, address that mandate via the institution of codes of ethics. In the previous chapter, I considered engineering professionalism from the perspective of Perrucci and Gerstl’s four dimensions ofknowledge, autonomy, obligation, andcommitment. It is specifically the dimension of obligation that creates the tie between the process of engineering and the social lifeworld. Professions areobligedto serve the common good.

      As I discussed in the previous chapter, on the one hand,...

      (pp. 75-86)

      Engineering affects the world as the world affects engineering. The contemporary German social philosopher Jürgen Habermas stated that the realm of system colonizes the lifeworld by imposing upon it the values of efficiency and productivity. On the other hand, conversations and decisions made in the human lifeworld contextualize systems, including the engineering project by motivating it and giving it direction. Colonization and contextualization travel the same road but in opposite directions. I contend, however, that the colonization of the lifeworld by engineering takes priority in the contemporary era of the modern engineering enterprise.

      Colonization or the imposition of the values...

      (pp. 89-112)

      From the little that is known of premodern or ancient engineers, it appears that they had a lot in common with contemporary engineers. Both can be described as disciplined, dedicated, and single-minded. Hardly unexpected, since the modern engineering enterprise actually subsumed rather than supplanted the premodern engineering endeavor, inheriting its structures and functions but incorporating a scientific sensibility along with premodern methodologies. However, there are differences between premodern and modern engineers that make a difference.

      For one thing, the premodern engineer tended to have apracticalcharacter, whereas the modern or contemporary engineer tends to bepragmatic. This is a...

      (pp. 113-140)

      In the previous chapter, I investigated the character of the premodern engineer, who came into being and flourished in the time period roughly from the pyramids to the cathedrals. The spirit of that character, even today, is very much present within engineering practice, especially in those projects which employ heuristic and intuitive methods. The character of the premodern engineer, in fact, was seen to have much in common with the character of the modern or contemporary engineer. The character of the premodern engineer was and is gauged by ethical and moral assessments. The primary ethics extant in the premodern era...

      (pp. 141-160)

      In Chapter 3, I looked at engineering as a colonizing project. The project of the modern engineering enterprise colonizes the human lifeworld by imposing upon it the values of efficiency and productivity. That discussion assumes engineering is a decontextualized project that comes up with products of various sorts that impact the lifeworld. The true contextualized nature of the engineering project was bracketed in order to focus on colonization. In this chapter, I will make my analysis more comprehensive by discussing the contextualized nature of the engineering project without the need to bracket the colonization effect of it. Context, which the...

      (pp. 163-178)

      In this chapter, I arrive at the heart of my project. Having discussed the premodern and modern takes on the engineering project, it is now time to look at the focal engineering venture. In the focal engineering venture it is theproductof the engineering project that stands out. Focal engineering asks whether these systems, services, structures, devices, organisms, and networks being let loose upon the planet are good products, and if so, in what sense? The hope is that some products will be not just functional but able to fulfill and engage our lives in a deep and meaningful...

      (pp. 179-190)

      In this chapter I will look at an ethics of products brought forth into the world by the practicing engineer. A given product, as I indicated in the last chapter, may be equitably distributed, totally safe, and environmentally benign, yet it may still deaden or disengage us. Truly focal products contribute to the good and open up rather than close down the world. In this chapter I will make these ideas more explicit by employing a type of ethics calledmaterial ethics, which stems from the work of Albert Borgmann. Material ethics seeks to assess the focal-ness of products that...

      (pp. 191-211)

      The colonization and contextualization intrinsic to the engineering project will come into balance as the modern engineering enterprise shifts toward the focal engineering venture. The focal engineer contributes a new perspective from within contemporary technological culture, a perspective that will challenge our apparently accelerating plummet into a hypertechnological postmodern future. The hypermodern spirit seems to be on the verge of overwhelming us today, and our worldview seems to be uncritical of, indeed totally complicit in, that process. What we need is a balance of that spirit with a more critical worldview. What we witness, however, is a proliferation of all...

  8. INDEX
    (pp. 212-216)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)