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The Engineering Project

Its Nature, Ethics, and Promise

Gene Moriarty

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

I have been a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering Department at San Jose State University for many years. My technical areas of focus have been circuits, systems, and controls, but while finishing my dissertation in electrical engineering in the 1970s, I discovered philosophy, in particular, the nascent field ...

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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 ...

PART I The Modern Engineering Enterprise

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pp. 11

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ONE Process

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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 ...

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TWO Process Ethics

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pp. 52-83

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 ...

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THREE Colonization

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pp. 75-85

Engineering affects the world as the world affects engineering. The contemporary German social philosopher J

PART II The Premodern Engineering Endeavor

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pp. 87

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FOUR Person

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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 ...

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FIVE Virtue Ethics

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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 ...

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SIX Contextualization

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pp. 141-159

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 ...

PART III The Focal Engineering Venture

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pp. 161

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SEVEN Product

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pp. 163-177

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 the product of the engineering project that stands out. Focal engineering asks whether these systems, ...

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EIGHT Material Ethics

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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 ...

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NINE Balance

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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 ...


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pp. 212-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780271053097
E-ISBN-10: 0271053097
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271032559
Print-ISBN-10: 0271032553

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 10 charts/graphs, 1 table
Publication Year: 2009