What Has Athens to do with Detroit?
P; stands for premise
C ; stands for conclusion
A. Tertullian’s Question and Our Question
1. Tertullian rhetorically asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
a. He is asking about the compatibility of faith and reason.
b. And implying that they are not compatible—in particular, that religion does not need philosophy.
2. We are asking about the relationship between PHIL and ENGR
a. It does appear that there is an incompatibility or an incommensurability between PHIL and ENGR.
b. But there is some common ground between PHIL and ENGR
c. And an argument can be made that philosophy useful (if not necessary) for engineering.
B. Prima Facie Tension between PHIL and ENGR
1. PHIL is a form of theoria
a. Transcendental objects of knowledge (truth, beauty and goodness)
b. Contemplative process (speculative, questioning thought)
c. Abstract products (concepts, ideas, theories)
2. ENGR is a form of techne
a. Mundane objects of knowledge (material needs, desires, and problems)
b. Active process (realistic, pragmatic action)
c. Concrete products (objects, things, technology)
3. Biases against PHIL
a. No Standards: There seem to be no objective norms for evaluating philosophy or determining whether one philosophy is better than another—philosophy seems to be mostly a matter of subjective opinion.
b. No Progress: Philosophers have been dealing with the same problems and questions for thousands of years without solving or settling them.
4. Praises for ENGR
a. Standards: Engineering is subject top clear pragmatic standards like effectiveness, efficiency, reliability, safety, sustainability, etc.
b. Progress: Engineering produces technology that has clearly contributed to material progress and increased quality of life
II. Common Ground
A. RE: No Standards in PHIL
1. True to some extent: PHIL is essentially skeptical and questioning—raising doubts and challenging fundamental assumptions and norms
2. But strictly false: PHIL works with arguments and analyses that are subject to the norms of reasons and the laws of logic. We can evaluate philosophical claims in terms of their clarity, consistency, cogency and coherence.
3. PHIL arises explicitly in favor of logos over mythos modes of knowledge and explanation
a. logos: arguments, logical connections, objective thought
b. mythos: narrative, psychological explanations, subjective feeling
4. SO: PHIL and ENGR have common language and standards in reason and logic
B. RE: No Progress in PHIL
1. True to some extent: PHIL deals with deep questions that often involve puzzles and paradoxes that cannot easily be resolved, and there are some age-old questions and problems that resist progress
2. But strictly false: There have been problems and questions on which a consensus has emerged at least about how to go about asking and answering the questions, but when this happens we begin calling the discipline something other than ‘philosophy’.
3. PHIL has given rise to main branches of mathematics (geometry, algebra, calculus, set theory, etc.) and most of the special sciences (physics, economics, psychology, computer science, etc.)
4. SO: PHIL and ENGR have common relatives in math and science
III. Nature of Philosophy
A. Pursuit of Wisdom
1. Sophia: Wisdom needed to pursue overall good life, life worth living
2. Philo: Love or pursuit of something not (yet) possessed
B. Reflective (Second-Order Inquiry)
1. First-order disciplines: directed at the world—what it is like and how to get around in it.
2. Second-order disciplines: directed at the first-order disciplines: how do they work, what are their methods, assumptions etc., and what are their functions and goals.
3. Philosophy seeks not to accumulate new facts about the world but a deeper understanding of the facts already established.
1. Governed by the norms of rationality—clarity, consistency, coherence, and cogency
2. Illuminative Axioms: Simple and self-evident claims that express the essence of a practice and shed light on the meaning and justification of principles by providing the basis for conceptual analyses and justifying arguments.
3. Conceptual Analyses: Try to make clear and precise what the criteria and conditions are for the correct application of concepts that play a key role in principles and how to apply them.
4. Justifying Arguments: Try to provide acceptable premises from which principles follow as conclusions in a way that lends credibility to the principles and the motivation to follow them.
D. Definition of Philosophy:
1. Rational reflection on the nature and value of fundamental human practices
2. Aimed at providing illuminative axioms that shed light on the meaning and justification of principles guiding those practices. This is valuable for promoting a deeper understanding of human practices.
3. So that people can achieve the goals of those practices better through understanding and being motivated to follow the principles. This is valuable for promoting the utility gained by practices achieving their purpose.
IV. Philosophy is useful for Engineering
P1: Engineers as such need to do the right thing: ENGRS need to follow principles of engineering ethics.
P2: Doing the right thing requires being willing and able to do the right thing: following code principles requires being willing to abide by and able to apply those principles.
C1: So, ENGRS as such need to be willing to abide and able to apply the principles of engineering ethics. [from P1 and P2]
P3: Being willing to abide code principles requires appreciating their justification—seeing how those principles follow from the very nature of ENGR.
P4: Being able to apply code principles requires understanding the meaning of their key terms—seeing how those terms are used distinctively in the context of ENGR.
C2: So, ENGRS as such need to appreciate the justification and understand the meaning of the principles of engineering ethics. [from C1, P3, and P4]
P5: Appreciating the justification and understanding the meaning of engineering ethics principles requires some illuminative axioms for engineering.
P6: Philosophy—i.e., rational reflection on the fundamental practice of engineering—is required to formulate illuminative axioms for engineering.
C3: So, philosophy is required for engineering. [from C2, P5, and P6]
V. Approaches to Professional Ethics
A. Cynical Approach
1. ENGR is not governed by any moral standards—only pragmatic and legal standards. (ENGR has no moral dimension.)
2. Motivated to abide codes out of superficial self-interest.
3. Ability to apply codes comes simply from the letter of the law supplemented by precedent.
B. Idealist Approach
1. The moral standards governing ENGR are mere applications of general norms of morality that do not have anything to do with ENGR in particular. (ENGR has only an extrinsic moral dimension.)
2. Motivated to abide codes out of general interest in being a good person or promoting the common welfare.
3. Ability to apply codes comes from interpreting them through the lens of some general moral theory.
C. Realist Approach
1. The moral standards governing ENGR are derived from the nature of ENGR itself (ENGR has an intrinsic moral dimension.)
2. Motivation to abide codes comes from the sense of identifying as a engineer and wanting to be a good engineer.
3. Ability to apply codes comes from a depth of understanding of the nature and value of what it is to be an engineer.