Systems Engineering Philosophy: No Easy Answers?

Keywords Systems Engineering Philosophy: No Easy Answers? philosophy of technology
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Using the works of Lipton (Lipton, 2010) and Ihde (Ihde, 2004) we discuss the differences between science and technology. Bunge, in (Ihde, 2004), suggested science was ethically neutral, but technology was not, and it grappled between good and evil. Lipton did not discuss the ethical dimension but focused on differences in the drivers, types of knowledge, and outputs of scientific and engineering activity. He suggested that scientists were the drivers of science. They picked problems within their paradigm and jurisdiction and attempted to solve them. For engineers, problems were given to them either by sponsors or clients who expected them to use their knowledge, skills, and judgment for creating solutions. Scientific knowledge, according to Lipton was ―knowing that‖, with roots in propositional logic, whereas engineering knowledge was ―knowing how‖, which he considers as an ability or skill. The output of scientific activity is theory generation, whereas the ideal output of engineering activity is an artifact or a product.

To understand the relevance of each of these philosophies, it is imperative to explore systems engineering. An upcoming effort (Dixit & Valerdi, 2011) analysed five different definitions of systems engineering, one by a professional society (INCOSE), two from texts (Blanchard & Fabyrcky and Sage) and two by individuals known for their contributions to systems engineering (George Friedman and Simon Ramo). Each definition provides a distinct perspective on systems engineering. They were different in terms of approach, scale, scope and end product. Hence, for the purpose of this discussion, we analyze systems using three lenses: people, processes and products. Given these parameters, we can now discuss the scope and relevance of each philosophy to systems engineering.

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Jo Ann Lane
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