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Philosophy of engineering

The philosophy of engineering is an emerging discipline that considers what engineering is, what engineers do, and how their work impacts on society. As such, the philosophy of engineering includes aspects of ethics and aesthetics, as well as the ontology, epistemology, etc. that might be studied in, for example, the philosophy of science.

Engineering is the profession aimed at modifying the natural environment, through the design, manufacture and maintenance of artifacts and technological systems. It might then be contrasted with science, the aim of which is to understand nature. Engineering at its core is about causing change, and therefore management of change is central to engineering practice. The philosophy of engineering is then the consideration of philosophical issues as they apply to engineering. Such issues might include the objectivity of experiments, the ethics of engineering activity in the workplace and in society, the aesthetics of engineered artifacts, etc.

While engineering seems historically to have meant devising, the distinction between art, craft and technology isn't clearcut. The Latin root ars, the Germanic root kraft and the Greek root techne all originally meant the skill or ability to produce something, as opposed to, say, athletic ability. The something might be tangible, like a sculpture or a building, or less tangible, like a work of literature. Nowadays, art is commonly applied to the visual, performing or literary fields, especially the so-called fine arts ('the art of writing'), craft usually applies to the manual skill involved in the manufacture of an object, whether embroidery or aircraft ('the craft of typesetting') and technology tends to mean the products and processes currently used in an industry ('the technology of printing'). In contrast, engineering is the activity of effecting change through the design and manufacture of artifacts ('the engineering of print technology').

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