Philosophy of Engineering and Artifact
in the Digital Era

an exploratory workshop

2009 February 6-8
“Stefan cel Mare” University of Suceava


Description of workshop research theme

 For the very first time in Romania, the exploratory workshop is focused on the explicit and simultaneous exploration of some emergent domains of research, as the philosophy of technology (studying the technology and its social effects) and philosophy of engineering (interested in the philosophical problems of the engineering), domains related to the more developed topics of bioethics, philosophy and computing, etc. The basis for this is represented by the contributions of some outstanding Romanian and foreign researchers in engineering and philosophy.

The philosophy of engineering is one of the most fervent domains of research. Using themes from the philosophy of technology (consecrated as a distinct sub-domain of the philosophical research only very recently), focuses on the philosophical problems related to the engineering.

Well known researchers in philosophy, sciences and engineering will decisively contribute to the promotion the topics of the philosophy of engineering (and technology). Based on the themes that will be debated (result: Proceedings), an interdisciplinary research project will be designed.

Technology and engineering are now mature enough to be permissive for the meta-theoretical perspectives, because of the avalanche of the questions focused on their specificity and theoretical dignity. What is engineering? Who is an engineer? What do the engineers do? How do they do what they do? Why do they do what they do as they do that? These are some of the questions that have become more and more frequent in the philosophical research. What could be the relevance of philosophy for the engineering? Could we have engineering ethics without a moral theory? Has engineering a social dimension? What is an artifact? Here are some of the issues interesting engineers (and technologists as well).

What engineers do is always subject for a moral evaluation. That is why what they do has always had philosophical dignity. The research related to the philosophical dimensions of the engineering are no more rejected ab initio , nor considered as curiosities. Secondly, what engineers do is always a rational action. That is why the philosophy of engineering is a very actual domain of the philosophical research, being present in more and more scientific events (example: the 2007 workshop organized by the Delft Technical University in Holland ).

On the other hand, the specificity of the engineer's work is quite different from the specificity of the work of the artist or the architect. That is why it demands an epistemological and axiological appropriate explanation. An engineering project has also a social dimension because it considers the users, the personnel and the public, as well as influencing social values.

Moreover, engineering has an important creative dimension. Inventics (creatology) is the result of the engineer's reflections on the specificity of the creation in the technical fields.

We are living in a world in which the artifact tends to become a co-inhabitant of the human environment. In this world, the philosophy of engineering and the philosophy of technology are, directly or indirectly, very present among the subjects of the day. The philosophy of engineering is interested in the philosophical problems relevant to engineering. The philosophy of technology is that philosophical domain dedicated to the meta-theoretical study of the technology and its social effects. Because it is related to the making and not to the understanding of it, as science is, engineering is intimately related to the technology / technique. The differences between them are, partially, done by their pro-veniences (term created by Martin Heidegger): one will arrive to the philosophy of engineering coming from the engineering, but at the same time, one will arrive to the philosophy of technology, coming from philosophy and its related domains.
The humankind needed 23 centuries to accept that Aristotle has good reasons to consider “techne” as a knowing mode and not only a doing mode. John Dewey and Martin Heidegger were interested in the effects of “techne” on the human being only a century ago (grosso modo).

An entire pleiad of contemporary researchers became, after that, interested in the topics of the philosophy of engineering and technology: Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Louis L. Bucciarelli, Paul Durbin, Jacques Ellul, Andrew Feenberg, David L. Goldberg, Alistair Gunn, Donna Haraway, Lary Hickman, Don Ihde, David Levin, Jean-François Lyotard, Paul Levinson, Leo Marx, Carl Mitcham, Natasha McCarthy, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Walter Vincenti, Langdon Winner a.o.

Among the macro-themes of the research in the philosophy of engineering and technology, one could mention: ethics of engineering and technology (ethics in the digital era; the relationship between the ethic engineering and the moral theory; artifacts and the distributed morality; ethics and social topics in the technological research); metaphysics of engineering and technology (engineering, technological and philosophical determinism; are the technologies inherently normative? Towards a metaphysics of engineering; philosophy of artifact and its use); epistemology of engineering and technology (philosophy of science and the nature of the engineering knowledge; interactive empiricism; the philosopher in the machine; the engineering software and the vagueness issue); engineering and value (the importance of the engineering for the philosophy; what is the use of the philosophy for the engineering; comparative approaches in the philosophy of engineering); creation, engineering and philosophy (the analysis of the evolution of the technology, starting from the patents; the differences between the engineers and other technologies; the engineering design, human centered); society, philosophy and engineering (engineering, culture and the culture of the engineering; the analysis of the public perception of the engineering and the philosophy; the leadership in engineering); engineering, technology and education (ethics and engineers' education; perspectives on the use of artifacts in education; the techno-socialization of the human being).

The working sections of the workshop will be multiple-focused (either on the engineering perspective, or on the philosophical one, or on the creation centered in the dialogue between the engineering and philosophy or even on the plurilogue: philosophy-engineering-inventics), to allow the detection of some possible common research themes, able to draw the interest of both engineers and philosophers, in nowadays' Romanian society.