Strategies for Engineering Development: Advancing Technology, Prioritising People

TitleStrategies for Engineering Development: Advancing Technology, Prioritising People
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsBowen, R. W.
Secondary TitleDesalination
ISBN Number0011-9164
KeywordsBuber, development, engineering, ethics, Ricoeur, water, weapons

At its best, engineering changes the world for the benefit of humanity. However, there are at present significant imbalances in engineering development. In some instances, appropriate technology is available but is not being applied, such as in water treatment. In other instances, inappropriate technology is being developed and applied, such as cluster munitions. These instances reflect a tendency for engineering, as presently taught and practised, to prioritise technical ingenuity over helping people. This tendency needs to be redressed. Engineering prior, ties are currently usually defined using technical systems approaches based oil a calculation of consequences. In instances where engineers explicitly consider the ethics of their activities they most often base their analysis oil utilitarianism or contractualism. These are important approaches, but they have significant I imitations. In particular, they neglect the human factor, our responsibilities in relation to others as persons. The ways in which these responsibilities have been expressed by philosophers are explored. Two modern approaches have special relevance. Buber’s description of I-Thou, I-It relationships has the unique advantages of encompassing both person/person and person/natural world relations and of recognising the importance of technical knowledge. Following Ricoeur, it is possible to suggest a simple expression of the new attitude that every engineer could adopt in applying his or her technical skills: "Here I am, how can I help you?".