Engineering Knowledge, Type of Design, and Level of Hierarchy: Further Thoughts About What Engineers Know

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 144)


This article comes at a point in my work that is both advantageous and awkward. The awkwardness comes from the fact that I have recently published a book under the title What Engineers Know and How They Know It (hence the allusion in the title of the present piece). 1 This book contains most of what I think I know about what engineers know, and what I offer here will not be essentially new. The advantages arise because, like most authors, I have been having second thoughts about what I have written and about ideas I think I see more clearly now. I shall attempt here to repackage and summarize those ideas in a way that — I hope — will make more explicit the historiographic and epistemological structure behind them. This structure did not appear so clearly when I was occupied with the nuts and bolts of the work. A diagram has also occurred to me that embodies some of the key ideas in an easily remembered and suggestive form. I will present and discuss it in the concluding part of this material.


Engineering Knowledge Operational Principle Landing Gear Technical Constraint Normal Configuration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    W.G. Vincenti, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. Laudan (ed.), The Nature of Technological Knowledge. Are Models of Scientific Change Relevant? (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1984).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This thought comes from Robert McGinn.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    E.W. Constant, The Origins of the Turbojet Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 10. Constant’s concept of normal technology is analogous to (and derivative from) Kuhn’s well-known concept of normal science;Google Scholar
  5. 4a.
    T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 328.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    H.A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 2nd. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981), pp. 132–133.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    H.G.J. Aitken, Syntony and Spark — The Origins of Radio (New York: Wiley Interscience, 1976), p. 314.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    O. Mayr, ‘The Science—Technology Relationship as a Historiographic Problem’, Technology and Culture 17(October, 1976), pp. 663–673, quotation from p. 677.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Fuller discussion of a truncated version of this diagram appears in the book.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    G. Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1949), pp. 27–32.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    E.T. Layton, Review of O. Mayr, (ed.), Philosophers and Machines, Technology and Culture 18 (January, 1977), pp. 89–91, quotation from p. 89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 12.
    T.J. Pinch and W.E. Bijker, ‘The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other’, in W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, and T.J. Pinch (eds.), The Social Construction of Technological Systems (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), pp. 17–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations