How can we define ‘engineering’ across cultures? Is ‘systems thinking’ the engineering equivalent of philosophy? Can engineers build devices that will help solve philosophical problems? These were some of the issues explored at the second international Workshop on Philosophy of Engineering (WPE), held at The Royal Academy of Engineering from 10 to 12 November . This was the second WPE to be held, following a successful meeting at the Technical University of Delft last year.

Over 90 participants attended the workshop, from across Europe, the US, China, India and Brazil. Nearly all of those attending played an active part, with 46 contributed papers, 8 posters, 4 keynote speakers and a series of ‘tutorials’ in which topics such as machine consciousness and peace engineering were introduced to participants working in different areas.

Keynote speakers were Billy V. Koen of the University of Texas speaking on ‘Towards a Philosophy of Engineering: An Engineer’s Perspective’; Jerome Ravetz speaking on ‘Maintenance as Morality’; Deborah Johnson who spoke on ‘An STS-informed account of Engineering Ethics’ and Carl Mitcham discussing ‘The Philosophical Weakness of Engineering as a Profession’. Dr Ravetz’s talk was the centrepiece of the conference, addressing the essential importance to engineering of maintenance, which is contrast with the relatively low status of maintenance activity and the people who carry it out.

Plans are now underway for the next workshop to be held in 2010. This year’s workshop was successful in bringing together philosophers and engineers in academia. The challenge for the next conference is to include more practising engineers to illustrate their perspective on the reality of engineering method and to examine with philosophers those aspects of their work that they find philosophically interesting.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - including the UK's most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community.
  1. Abstracts of the lectures given on the day and more information about the Philosophy of Engineering programme are available here:
    Philosophy of Engineering