Intuition and Ineffability: Tacit Knowledge and Engineering Design

  • Mark Thomas YoungEmail author
Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 31)


My goal in this paper is to show how the study of intuition in engineering design allows a fresh perspective from which to approach the issue of tacit knowledge, and one which may even help us gain some traction on stubborn philosophical problems. The first section of this paper seeks to outline the nature and role of intuition by examining the limitations of attempts to formalize the practice of engineering design. As an element of engineering practice that is commonly understood to resist codification, and be acquired exclusively through practice and experience, intuition not only shares a number of characteristics with philosophical accounts of tacit knowledge, but it also reveals promising new directions for its analysis in both historical and philosophical contexts. The second section of this article aims to draw out correlations between characteristics of intuition in engineering design and phenomenological aspects of the accounts of tacit knowledge provided by Michael Polanyi and Harry Collins. It will be shown how both thinkers emphasize the use of judgment stemming from a cultivated receptivity to relevant features of a task, as central to their accounts of tacit knowledge. Finally, I aim to show how a phenomenological understanding of tacit knowledge provides us with a solution to what I call the “ineffability problem”; the idea that because tacit knowledge resists codification it is ineffable and therefore possesses little explanatory value.


Tacit knowledge Intuition Engineering Design Phenomenology 



I would like to thank Harald Johanessen and Sorin Bangu for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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