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Philosophy, Engineering Education And The Curriculum.

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Philosophy of Engineering Education: Epistemology and Ethics

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.978.1 - 13.978.17



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Paper Authors

author page

John Heywood Trinity College-Dublin

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Philosophy, Engineering Education and the Curriculum.


Recently some leading senior engineering societies have encouraged discussions about the philosophy of engineering that even extend to metaphysics. Authors acting independently have also published substantial papers on the topic. However, little has been written about philosophy and engineering education. The purpose of this discussion is to extend the debate that is emerging in this respect. From the examples given it is argued that just as intending teachers in training are exposed to the philosophy of education so teachers in higher education, in this case engineering, should also be exposed to its study. In short it is argued that engineering educators should have a defensible philosophy of education. The primary focus of the paper is the contribution that philosophy can make to decisions about the curriculum and instruction. The paper begins with a short review of recent developments in the philosophy of engineering. A distinction is made between operational or working philosophy, philosophy and philosophical disposition. Arguments for exposing teachers to the philosophy of education are briefly presented. In considering the curriculum and the aims of engineering it is important to be quite clear about the terms that are used. This point is illustrated with reference to the design of instruction and assessment. In publicly financed higher education it is of importance to maintain an on-going critique of the aims that drive that finance as well as the “one-sided criticisms of others.” Lists of aims are often contradictory and require in the first instance to be screened by philosophy. The recent study of engineering by Williams points to the need for profound debate about the aims of engineering education.

The potential for such a debate is illustrated by Whitehead’s aims of education together with his rythmic theory of learning and development. The implications of his philosophy for the structure of education and instruction are considered. His arguments require a response from those responsible for engineering programmes. The proposition that engineering educators who have a philosophy of education will be in a better position to help schools design engineering programmes is illustrated by the application of Whitehead’s model to a specific case. It is for educators to arrive at their own defensible philosophies of education.

Recent developments in philosophy and engineering

There has been a recent interest in philosophy and engineering. Apart from a major philosophical treatise1and some substantial contributions on the nature of engineering and how it is differentiated with science.2 Professional organizations in China, the United Kingdom and the United States have discussed the matter3. This may not be surprising for in the last century a substantive study in the philosophy science allied with its history emerged. Early in that century distinguished scholars were writing about the philosophy of physics4and by the nineteen-fifties organizations for the study history and philosophy of science had emerged. There seems to have been a long-standing interest in the history of technology but not in the

Heywood, J. (2008, June), Philosophy, Engineering Education And The Curriculum. Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3590

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