Teaching philosophy to engineering students

Heywood, J., Grimson, W. and Korte, R. (2009) Teaching philosophy to engineering students. [Conference Proceedings]


The intention of this paper is to accompany the two special sessions on teaching philosophy in engineering courses as a vehicle for reflection on the subject matter of these sessions. In recent years there have been substantial international discussions on the subject of engineering and philosophy. The second of two international workshops on philosophy and engineering was held at the Royal Academy of Engineering in November 2008. Many of the outcomes of these deliberations have a bearing on the engineering curriculum and they coincide with a resurgent debate about content and method in the liberal education of engineers. At FIE 2007 and 2008 special sessions and a number of papers focused on engineering education and the more specific philosophy of education. These developments will be reviewed. One of the emerging issues that relate philosophy and the psychology of development has been the treatment of ethics within the context of moral development. Another emerging issue, the principle subject of this paper, is the idea that in addition to ethics philosophy should be taught to engineering students. But the proponents of this view do not, it seems, speak with one voice and this for the want of a more substantial and focused debate on the issue. The different views may be posed as questions thus: Should, philosophy be taught as a separate course or integrated into existing programmes, as for example design where there is already a relevant and high quality literature? If philosophy is taught as a separate course is its purpose to provide an understanding of the traditional disciplines of philosophy and the bearing they have on engineering, or is it to help students acquire a philosophical disposition (habit of mind)? If it is the latter how does that differ from the commonly held goal of higher education- the development of skill in reflective (critical) thinking? Or, is it about training students in the use of philosophical techniques in engineering? And in respect of the last question is that liberal education? Apart from some European studies of the attitudes of engineering teachers to the introduction of philosophy into engineering programmes and American work on moral development there has been little relevant research and development in these areas. The purpose of this paper is to review these recent discussions in the light of the questions posed above with the intention of outlining areas for research. ©2009 IEEE.

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