The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Edwin T. Layton

Science as a Form of Action:

The Role of the Engineering Sciences

Technology & Culture, 29 (1)

January 1988, 82-97

Near the outset Michael Fores tells us that his “Transformations and the Myth of ‘Engineering Science’” is a philosophical paper (p. 64).  Though it is a strange philosophy, there is method in his animad-versions.  The most fundamental assumption of Fores’s philosophy is that there is only one valid form of cognition, empiricism.  He believes that “human activity is constrained to be continuingly empirical” (p. 81).  This leads him to see the world in terms of a division between “empiricism” versus “science.”  But at the heart of Fores’s “empirical” philosophy there is a glaring contradiction.  His own methodology is not, in fact, empirical at all.  He totally rejects the idea that science can influence the way engineers do technology, asking “How can anyone recognize a ‘scientific’ form of technical work?” (p. 67).  I and the historians of technology Fores associates with me have discussed numerous examples of precisely this. [1]  Fores dismisses all this scholarship without recourse to empirical facts; his procedure is to label such works as “myth” or “magic.”  He does not in a single case show that we have got our facts wrong or that the data are contradicted by better-established facts.  Indeed, his entire article is cast on a very abstract “philosophical” level that ignores or is vague concerning the empirical realities it purportedly deals with.

The most striking example of Fores’s rejection of empirical methods is his arbitrary classification of much (possibly all) scientific theory as magic.  Humans, he claims, find uncertainty difficult to bear.  He asserts that “magic is indeed invoked whenever there is thought to be a good deal of risk involved” (p. 80).  He provides no evidence for this but relies on Bronislaw Malinowski’s famous observations of the magical practices of the Trobriand Islanders.

DR. LAYTON is professor of the history of technology in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

1. See the list in Fores, n. 4.  Elsewhere he extends the list to others, including Donald Cardwell, David Channell, Carlo Cipolla, Edward Constant, Eda Kranakis, A. E. Musson, Eric Robinson, Abbott P. Usher, and Walter Vincenti.  I feel honored to be placed in such company.


Malinowski concluded that magic employs theory and has certain similarities to science. [2]  Fores then makes a great conceptual leap: he turns Malinowski on his head and concludes that the use of such concepts as “science,” “theory,” or “law” in a technological context amounts to magic - a totemistic worship of science (p. 81).  Indeed, he comes close to repudiating science both as a form of action and as a form of cognition.  He denies that there can ever be such a thing as a “scientific activity” (p. 78).  He reduces the concept of “law of nature” to the weakest sort of metaphor.  In dealing with Newton, he asserts: “Take Newton’s laws of motion.  The last thing that inert bodies in motion need, to help them decide how to act, is the panoply of articulated ‘law,’ with its parliaments, law schools, and juries” (p. 78).  Fores misrepresents Malinowski’s position.  Malinowski concluded that magic is a pseudoscience, that magic and science may be easily distinguished because “the spurious character of this pseudo-science is not hard to detect.”  The difference, according to Malinowski, was that “The theories of knowledge are dictated by logic, those of magic by the association of ideas under the influence of desire.” [3]

I believe that Fores’s own philosophy will not pass Malinowski’s test.  His identification of scientific and technological theory with magic is based on his wish to discredit science and his association of it with magic.  But wish and association are not proof except in magic.  Fores rejects many works of scholarship without even a token effort to base his dismissals on empirical facts.  He never cites a specific scientific theory or law whose use constitutes magic.  His reasoning is therefore not empirical, except in name.  If we apply Malinowski’s test to Fores’s article, it would be classified as “pseudo-science” and “magic.”  Clearly, Fores’s “empiricism” is a metaphysical principle, not an epistemology.

I believe that the most fundamental issue raised by Fores’s article is scholarship.  The historians attacked by him are scholars who practice a demanding empirical discipline.  He shows no respect for empirical facts, nor does he employ reason except in the most “intolerant” and “disorderly” manner.  He does not treat evidence in a disciplined, critical manner.  His position depends almost entirely on purely arbitrary assertion, unsupported by specific references to the “observable world” (p. 65).  Thus he argues (in an imaginary confrontation of Newton with modern scholars) that:

2. Bronjslaw Malinowskj, Magic, Science and Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1954), pp. 79-87.

3. Ibid., p. 87.


“Newton is sure that he did not develop any ‘scientific method’ for all time.  Nor did he use ‘the mechanical philosophy,’ which implies the construction of a particular type of record, except for a particular purpose - trying to make sense of observations about the motion of inert bodies… (p. 79).  I believe the “for all time” is an evasion.  Eternal Truth is not the issue.  The crucial question is whether there are valid scientific methods that can be taught and employed in technology.  Fores grants “methods” but apparently feels these are invalid “in the absence of any single statement for specialist activity of any type” (p. 71).

There are innumerable statements concerning various specialist disciplines, particularly for engineering.  Though Fores is characteristically vague, the literature on engineering work and “specialist activity” of all sorts is so vast that it is difficult to imagine a topic that has been neglected.  For example, there is a useful survey by Roger Mayne and Stephen Margolis entitled Introduction to Engineering.  Interestingly enough, it contains a short section on engineering science. [4]

Fores’s position requires that he reject the idea that there are valid scientific methods that can be taught.  If he cannot do this, then it is simply nonsense to claim (as he does) that engineers cannot be taught scientific methods and cannot bring these scientific methods to the practice of their profession, making science the model for a form of action.  Fores then must argue that there is no genuine method for doing science: “... it would be a miracle if there were an identifiable, stereotypical, ‘scientific’ mode of human working.  And indeed, for all the discussion of the ‘rationality of science,’ ‘induction,’ ‘scientific method,’ and so on set up to provide some type of ‘law’ or ‘governing principle’ for successful scientists to use, there has no more been a known, articulated ‘method for doing science’ than there has been an identifiable ‘cooking method’” (p. 70).

This is very puzzling coming from an avowed empiricist.  His denial of an “identifiable” method of cooking provides a remarkable example of Fores’s counterfactual “empiricism.”  The bookstores are filled with cookbooks that teach readers how to cook.  And there are many other vehicles for teaching cooking methods: classes, television programs, and newspaper columns, not to mention the traditional education of children by their parents.  Fores’s claim is simply nonsense.  His “identifiable” is evidently synonymous with “identifiable as a part of my metaphysical system.”

4. Roger Mayne and Stephen Margolis, Introduction to Engineering (New York, 1982), pp. 20-21.


Fores’s rejection of the possibility of teaching scientific methods (particularly to engineers) is as puzzling as his denial of the existence of cooking methods.  There are many books written by scientists and by engineers for the use of students and practitioners in engineering which teach scientific methods.  Most of these are concerned with specific experimental or theoretical methods - photoelastic stress analysis, for example.  But there are certainly a number of useful general books on the design of experiments intended for engineers. [5]  The author of one of the most widely used of these books, E. M. Bartee, comments that “the effective planning of engineering experiments” combines the application “of the scientific method and the methodology of engineering design.” [6]  For someone with an engineering training to ignore the large body of literature on teaching scientific methods to engineers is truly astonishing.  This indicates that Fores’s own methods are not empirical but constitute the exposition of a purely metaphysical “empiricism” with a highly problematic relation to the real world of engineering practice.

Fores also ignores a large body of empirical historical studies that contradict his thesis that technology was not transformed under the influence of science.  Fores is, I suspect, quite well aware of the evidence that Watt, Smeaton, Charles de Borda, and many other engineers used experiments, and that these experiments drew some inspiration from science.  I believe that Fores is also aware that Watt and other engineers also developed generalizations based on experiments (i.e., they developed theories). [7]  But he rejects the idea that the work of engineers such as Watt produced a scientific transformation of technology.

In Fores’s world, how do we account for the work of Sadi Carnot?  He was one of the founders of thermodynamics, but his analysis depended on the existence of steam engines, notably Watt’s, in which the fall in temperature from source to sink was made mani-

5. K. A. Brownless, Statistical Theory and Methodology in Science and Engineering (New York, 1960), represents one example of many; there are also old classics such as Sir Ronald A. Fisher, The Design of Experiments (New York: Hafner ed., 1960).

6. E. M. Bartee, Engineering Experimental Design Fundamentals (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968), p. vii.

7. For example, see Donald S. L. Cardwell, From Watt to Clausius: The Rise of Thermodynamics in the Early Industrial Age (Ithaca, N.Y., 1971), and Cardwell, “Some Factors in the Early Development of the Concepts of Power, Work, and Energy,” British Journal of the History of Science 3 (1966-67): 209-24.  (Fores’s rejection of Cardwell is in his n. 60.)  On the development of a science for waterpower, see also Terry S. Reynolds, Stronger than a Hundred Men (Baltimore, 1983), pp. 196-265, as well as Reynolds, “Scientific Influences on Technology: The Case of the Overshot Waterwheel, 1752_1754,” Technology and Culture 20 (April 1979): 270-95.


fest.  Carnot’s work was almost purely theoretical.  Yet he was an engineer and his theory was aimed at determining the limits of efficiency of heat engines, a classical engineering problem.  Carnot’s ideal cycle was eventually incorporated in a body of theoretical and experimental knowledge about heat engines, sometimes called “engineering thermodynamics.”  This body of knowledge has come in time to influence the design of all manner of heat engines.  Fores’s philosophy makes it much more difficult to understand facts such as these; it is not congruent with the realities of engineering or its history.

I do not pretend to know what Fores would do with the work of Kelvin, Maxwell, and similar figures whose scientific theories can be shown to have influenced technological activity by way of such figures as Oliver Heaviside, George Campbell, and Charles P. Steinmetz. [8]  But if his metaphysical system can absorb Newton’s mathematical physics, the second law of thermodynamics, and even Levi-Strauss’s theory of totemism as properly empirical (p. 66), then it should be able to properly sanitize even these figures and the scientific and technological events with which they were connected.  In this sense Fores is not disputing facts.  His battle is one of words and metaphysical categories, used in an arbitrary and subjective manner.  As such his metaphysical system lies outside the purview of any scholarly discipline, and particularly an empirical discipline such as history of technology.

In Fores’s universe there is a very fundamental dichotomy between rationalists and empiricists.  He sees it as a sort of “sheep” and “goats” division.  Neither of these fundamental categories is clearly defined.  In the case of me and my former student, David Channell, Fores imagines that the changes we discuss fit into his simplistic dichotomy of “empiricism” versus “science.”  In particular he imagines that: “They [Layton and Channell] were both broadly in accord with Rankine’s isolation of two separable modes of technical working, the first being ‘empirical... purely and simply practical’ and the second being ‘scientific’” (p. 64).  He returns at several points to this dichotomy and his conviction that I believe that there was a simple change from “empirical” to “scientific.”

There is ample evidence in the papers of mine analyzed by Fores that I do not accept his simplistic dichotomization of reality into an

8. James E. Brittain, “The Introduction of the Loading Coil: George A. Campbell and Michael I. Pupin,” Technology and Culture 11 (January 1970): 36-57, and Ronald R. Kline, “Charles P. Steinmetz and the Development of Electrical Engineering Science” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1983).


“empirical” before and an exclusively rational or “scientific” after.  I have argued a more complex position: that empiricism and rationalism have been continuing elements in a fruitful interaction of science and technology, though both the form and their relative roles in science and technology have evolved over time.  Fores never cites any evidence that I accept a simple empirical/scientific dichotomy.  At some point after putting me into his two categories, he evidently became aware of my explicit rejection of at least one of them, a rationalist “after” state for engineering.  He quotes me in another context as saying, “to date, the complexities of [engineering] practice continue to transcend theory” (p. 73).  Fores was evidently most reluctant to abandon the categories into which he feels (apparently a priori) that I must fit.  But he tacitly reduced his claim to an “empirical” “before,” as in his statement, “there is no good evidence to indicate that Layton’s ‘before’ mode is different from that outlined by Channell as being ‘practical’ and ‘empirical’” (p. 77).  Fores’s reference note, presumably his only supporting evidence for this claim, is the statement in his note 59: “Channell has acknowledged ‘helpful assistance’ from Layton at the beginning of his article” (p. 77).

Fores has, however, ignored an extensive statement by me in which I explicitly rejected his simplistic “empiricism” as the “before” situation.  He claims that there is no good evidence for this, yet he cites the work in question, my article “Technology as Knowledge,” three times in his paper. [9]  In this article I argued that, “technology has relied on rational principles and theoretical constructs since at least classical antiquity.  In more recent times, these rational elements have been transformed into systematic bodies of thought, that is, they have become sciences in some sense.” [10]  I continue this line at some length, showing that Alexandre Koyré had a somewhat similar view.  I concluded with the statement that “earlier craft rules and modern engineering science, however different, form a continuum.” [11]  The sort of technological rules I had in mind for the earlier era were, for example, similar to the quasi-scientific methods of medieval masons as reconstructed by Robert Mark and others. [12]  Another familiar example of a rational, quasi-scientific element in ear-

9. Layton, “Technology as Knowledge,” Technology and Culture 15 (January 1974):31-41.  Fores’s citations are in his notes 4, 5, and 8.

10. Layton, “Technology as Knowledge,” p. 39.

11. Ibid, p. 40.

12. Robert Mark, Experiments in Gothic Structure (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), pp. 56, 119.  See also James S. Ackerman, “Ars Sine Scientia Nihil Est: Gothic Theory of Architecture at the Cathedral of Milan,” Art Bulletin 26 (1949): 84-111.


lier technology would be the derivation of the catapult rule by Hellenistic engineers. [13]

The existence of a prototypical scientific rationality in technology has been demonstrated for the Renaissance.  Alexander Keller has shown that Renaissance engineers developed mathematical theories to describe machines and engineering.  There is a strong implication that Keller believes that the prior mathematization of engineering may have influenced the subsequent development of mathematical descriptions of nature by scientists from Galileo onward. [14]  Thomas Settle has shown that Ostilio Ricci, besides teaching geometry to Galileo, sometimes practiced engineering, and he made a personal copy of Leon Battista Alberti’s Ludi Matematici.  It is quite likely that it was Ricci who introduced Galileo to Alberti’s work, which appears to have had a significant influence on Galileo’s experimental methods. [15]  There are important ways in which the scientific methods developed by Galileo and his successors built on prior experimental and theoretical methods developed by engineers, such as Leonardo da Vinci. [16]

There is much evidence that the Scientific Revolution drew heavily from technology.  This evidence needs a critical review. [17]  A full exposition of this complex problem would be out of place here.  I have advocated an interactive model of the relations of science and technology.  I believe that technology made important contributions to the methodologies of science prior to the Scientific Revolution, just as technology has made extensive borrowings of methodology since that time as part of a cycle in the two-way interactions between these two great, symbiotically linked human agencies.

13. Barton C. Hacker, “Greek Catapults and Catapult Technology: Science, Technology, and War in the Ancient World,” Technology and Culture 9 (January 1968): 34-50.  See also Walter G. Vincenti, “The Air-Propeller Tests of W. F. Durand and E. P. Lesley: A Case Study in Technological Methodology,” Technology and Culture 20 (October 1979): 714.

14. Alex Keller, “Mathematicians, Mechanics and Experimental Machines in Northern Italy in the Sixteenth Century,” in The Emergence of Science in Western Europe, ed. M. P. Crossland (London, 1975), pp. 15-34, and “Pneumatics, Automata and the Vacuum in the Work of Giambattista Aleoui,” British Journal for the History of Science 3 (1967): 338-47.  An example of “applied science” was described by Keller in “Archimedean Hydrostatic Theorems and Salvage Operations in 16th-Century Venice,” Technology and Culture 12 (October 1971): 602-17.

15. Thomas B. Settle, “Ostilio Ricci, a Bridge between Alberti and Galileo,” XII Congres d’Histoire des Sciences: Actes (Paris, 1968): 121-26.  See also Arnaldo Masotti, “Ostilio Ricci,” Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 11: 405-6.

16. See, e.g., the suggestive article by Ladislao Reti, “II moto del prioietti e del pendolo secondo Leonardo e Galileo,” Le Machine 1 (December 1968): 63-89.

17. Lynn White, jr., “Pumps and Pendula: Galileo and Technology,” in Carlo L. Golino, ed., Galileo Reappraised (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), pp. 96-110.


However, I do not think that the use of the terms “empirical” and “scientific” to characterize two historical epochs in technology is such a grave error as Fores would have us believe.  The systematic use of scientific methods and results is a characteristic of much modern engineering.  One has only to look at such fields as transistors, integrated circuits, and lasers. [18]  The empirical/scientific categories have become conventional shorthand to distinguish rather complex changes.  This is analogous to the term “Neolithic” to describe a rather complex set of social changes, of which the most important was not polished stone tools but rather the invention of agriculture.  The use of a conventional shorthand is not dangerous as long as we remember that it is only a useful label.  This terminology does not necessarily carry the metaphysical freight Fores imputes to it.  The inadequacies of these terms have caused me to avoid them, though I am surprised that I did not slip into the common usage.  It is very convenient, and we lack good, short alternatives.

Fores often quotes me out of context and distorts the meaning of what I have said.  A particularly offensive example appears at the very outset, where he presents a quote from me as an epigraph for his paper.  The quote is “obviously, much of the impetus to modern engineering has... come from science.”  The actual passage is part of a section in which I argue that design is more fundamental to engineering than is science.  This, then, presents a dilemma since American engineers adopted a self-image of themselves as scientists (or applied scientists); they have not accepted the self-image of “designer.”  The quoted sentence then follows; the “obviously” modifies the preceding reference to self-image, not the later reference to the role of science in the development of engineering.  If someone adopts a seemingly inappropriate self-identification (say, “citizen of the world” where a national identification might be expected) then the fact that he or she really is a citizen of the world in some sense (e.g., as an employee of the United Nations) is at least a partial explanation.  Fores in quoting my sentence left out the critical word “indeed” (where he duly inserted three dots) that told the reader that the reference was to the preceding discussion of self-image.

I do assume that science has had an important influence on modern engineering, but I do not assume that this is obvious.  As I have pointed out on many occasions, engineering achievements cannot,

18. Robert M. Warner, Jr., and B. L. Grung, Transistors. Fundamentals for the Integrated-Circuit Engineer (New York, 1983), pp. 1-91, is particularly useful as a historical survey because of Warner’s use of his recollections as a participant in many of the events described.  For the laser, the interplay of science and engineering has been neatly outlined by Joan Lisa Bromberg, “Engineering Knowledge in the Laser Field,” Technology and Culture 27 (October 1986): 798-818.


in general, be explained by an “applied science” theory, and in many cases the influence of science has been subtle and indirect; science has, for example, influenced the experimental and theoretical methods employed by engineers, and, perhaps most profoundly, the institutional structure and values of the engineering profession. [19] In general, the quote of me is part of a statement that engineering is fundamentally design. [20]

That quote therefore has a very different meaning than the one Fores imputes to it.  His quotation implies that my statement is a manifesto for the supremacy of science in shaping technology, and that this position is “obvious” (e.g., p. 65).  This is in fact a gross distortion of what I said.  Scholarship, as a disciplined effort to discover the facts and interpret them correctly by nonsubjective criteria, is evidently alien to Fores’s methodology.

Fores does raise one fundamental point that deserves further discussion.  This is his criticism of comments by me that discuss the engineering sciences in terms of “ends” and “goals.” [21]  Fores attacks my use of the word “teleological” (p. 69).  The context was my contrast between the empirical and goal-directed science developed by engineers and the rationalistic view of science expressed by Alexandre Koyré.  I noted that for Koyre the chief result of the Scientific Revolution was the description of reality in terms of a world of precision, free of all “considerations based upon value-concepts, such as perfection, harmony, meaning, and aim.” [22]  It was in this context that I char-

19. See my “Mirror-Image Twins: The Communities of Science and Technology in 19th-Century America,” Technology and Culture 12 (October 1971): 562-80.

20. See my “American Ideologies of Science and Engineering,” Technology and Culture 17 (October 1976): 696.

21. ”Transformations,” p. 69.  The reference is to my statement that “basic science aims at knowing; it seeks generality and exactitude, even at the price of a good deal of idealization.  But engineering science serves the needs of practice, even when this involves loss of generality and acceptance of approximate solutions.”  (“Scientific Technology, 1845-1900: The Hydraulic Turbine and the Origins of American Industrial Research,” Technology and Culture 20 [January 1979]: 88.)

22. Alexandre Koyrh, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), p. 4.  Koyré held that “This scientific and philosophical revolution - ... can be described roughly as bringing forth the destruction of the Cosmos, that is, the disappearance... of the conception of the world as a finite closed, and hierarchically ordered whole, ... [and] the discarding by scientific thought of all considerations based upon value-concepts, such as perfection, harmony, meaning, and aim… (p. 4).  Earlier in the same work he referred to “the replacement of the teleological and organismic pattern of thinking and explanation by the mechanical and causal pattern… (p.v).  Koyre described the change in essentially the same words elsewhere, e.g., in his Metaphysics and Measurement (London, 1968), pp. 19-20, passim, and in his Etudes Galiléennes (Paris, 1966), pp. 1-4.


acterized engineering science as “teleological.”  I do not apologize for this; unlike the science sketched by Koyre, engineering science does have “aims.”  This is true not only for the engineering sciences but for all of those sciences that practice, such as medicine and agriculture. [23]  The specific terminology served to emphasize the contrast between the empiricism and instrumentalism of the engineering sciences and the rationalism attributed to the basic sciences by Koyré. [24]

One of the things that distinguishes the engineering sciences from the basic sciences is precisely their “aim” of assisting in the design of manmade devices or systems.  The engineering sciences are instruments for implementing goals through the design process.  In particular, the questions of purpose and goal are an integral part of discussions of engineering sciences as of technology generally.  Friedrich Rapp has argued that “the engineering sciences possess a prescriptive character,” and “... the engineering sciences.. - provide mere hypothetical imperatives; they explain how to proceed toward the achievement of a certain goal.  Yet, by their very nature they cannot provide any information as to what should be achieved... To make the step from theory to practice is to proceed from an understanding of the anticipated consequences... This step is rational only if, in addition to the theoretical knowledge, the intended goal is also stipulated.” [25]

Herbert Simon has argued that there are a body of sciences associated with practice, which he terms the “sciences of the artificial.” [26]  He very properly emphasizes the close association of engineering science with engineering design.  He argues for engineering that: “We speak of engineering as concerned with ‘synthesis,’ while science is concerned with ‘analysis.’  Synthetic... and more specifically, prospective artificial objects having desired properties - are the central objective of engineering activity and skill.  The engineer is concerned with how things ought to be - ought to be, that is, in order to attain goals, and to function.” [27]  Simon concludes that sciences of the artificial, such as “engineering science,” have certain characteris-

23. Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), pp. 5-6, where goal direction is taken as a fundamental, intrinsic property of “sciences of the artificial.”

24. Koyre held that “I do believe that science is primarily theory and not the gathering of ‘facts’” (Metaphysics and Measurement, p. 18 n).

25. Friedrich Rapp, Analytical Philosophy of Technology, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 63 (Dordrecht, 1981), pp. 58-59.

26. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, pp. 3-13, passim.

27. Ibid., p. 5.


tics that distinguish them from natural sciences.  These include characterization in terms of functions, goals, and adaptation.  Also, the artifacts the engineering sciences are concerned with are properly discussed in terms of “imperatives” as well as descriptive terms.  That is, they are concerned with what ought to be, not with what is.

One might think of the engineering sciences as intrinsically objective but operating within a value-laden context.  The engineering sciences were created to serve certain generalized goals.  Specific values appear in the design context, where people make decisions about building or not building artifacts having particular attributes and certain anticipated negative side effects in order to achieve a specific goal deemed to be beneficial.  The decisive proof of the presence of value choices in all engineering design was provided, ironically, by the efforts of systems engineers to objectify design.  They found that to do this they had to specify weighing coefficients for each system characteristic.  In short, they proved that all design is, in principle, impregnated with values. [28]

Professions link bodies of knowledge to forms of action.  The characteristic identification of bodies of knowledge as forms (i.e., patterns) of action is quite widespread in space and time.  It is not a peculiarity of Anglo-Saxon usage.  Aristotle defined art (including our “technology”) in terms of a combination of knowledge and action.  He held that “since architecture is an art and is essentially a reasoned state of capacity to make... art is identical with a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning.” [29]  In one of my papers analyzed by Fores I quote the medieval churchman, Hugh of Saint Victor, as holding that “mechanics is a form of knowledge which must embrace the methods of production of all things.” [30]  So for the venerable medieval thinker mechanics was both a body of knowledge and a form or pattern for action.  In a strict sense, it is, of course, the practitioners who both know and act.  But this strictness verges on pedantry; the original statements led to no confusion.

The scientific professions such as medicine provide models of the relations of professions to collections of sciences.  The term “engineering science” is exactly parallel with the term “medical science” or “agricultural science.”  That is, professions cultivate bodies of knowledge, and some of these may be properly termed sciences.

28. Thomas T. Woodson, Introduction to Engineering Design (New York, 1966), pp. 204-5.

29. Richard McKeon, ed, Introduction to Aristotle (New York, 1947), p. 427.

30. “Technology as Knowledge” (n. 9 above), p. 33.


Fores seeks to discredit the engineering sciences, particularly in the version of this concept developed by W. J. M. Rankine, by associating them with ideology and interest-group behavior.  All professions develop ideologies. [31]  I believe that all have, at some time or another, attempted to exploit the possession of a body of esoteric knowledge for selfish or ideological reasons. [32]  But the misuse (for example) of medical science by the medical profession at certain times and places does not invalidate medical science.  Fores’s argument is simply another version of the old ad hominem fallacy.  He reaches the startling conclusion that only Britain had professions in the mid-19th century (p. 72).  He sees Rankine’s use of the term “engineering science” as an Anglo-Saxon cultural aberration and denounces those who use the term as “parochial” (p. 76).  The fact that the sociology of professions differs from country to country does not invalidate the idea that professions exist.  Germany has had professions, including engineering, now and in the 19th century as well. [33]

A key element in the successful professional strategy of German engineers has been the control of admission by a diploma, based on a demanding curriculum that included a large amount of scientific material.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries German engineering education was more scientific, and particularly more oriented to scientific theory, than was that of the United States. [34]  This strongly theoretical and scientific bias in German engineering training was, in part, a heritage of the French polytechnic schools.  Along with this highly scientific tradition in engineering education, the Germans also imported the idea of “engineering science.” [35]  Max Becker edited the five-volume Handbuch der Ingenieur-Wissenschaft, which went

31. Howard Becker and James W. Carper, “The Development of Identification with an Occupation,” American Journal of Sociology 61 (January 1956): 289-98.

32. Jeffrey Berlant, Profession and Monopoly (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975).

33. K. H. Ludwig, Technik, Ingenieure und Gesellschaft, Festschrift zum 100 Jahrigen Bestehen des VDI (Düsseldorf, 1981); J. F. Volrad Denekde, Die Freien Berufe (Stuttgart, 1956); and Stanley Hutton and Peter Lawrence, German Engineers: The Anatomy of a Profession (Oxford, 1981), which has an extensive bibliography of the literature (pp. 144-48).

34. John R. Freeman, ed., Hydraulic Laboratory Practice (New York, 1929), provides an illuminating concrete case in point.  Freeman was one of those who grafted the more scientifically advanced German engineering education and engineering research onto American engineering education and research.  Though nominally a translation of a German book, Freeman had been instrumental in putting the work together with the aim of transferring the more scientific German technology to American engineering.  He was aided by the cooperation of a number of German engineers and by the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure.

35. Rapp, Analytical Philosophy of Technology (n. 25 above), pp. 91-92.


through several editions from 1856 to 1883. [36]  A new edition edited by Leo von Willman appeared in five volumes from 1904 to 1920 with the title Handbuch der Ingenieurwissenschaften.[37]  Friedrich Rapp has discussed the history of the engineering sciences in the 19th century with emphasis on German developments. [38]

This brings us to the central contention of Fores, that there is no “well-named” thing called the “engineering sciences.”  These sciences are sometimes termed the “applied sciences.”  I prefer the term “engineering science” for several reasons.  The term “applied science” derives from the now-discredited theory that technology is nothing more than the application of the basic sciences.  Of course, one can say that the term “applied” can be taken to mean those sciences whose function is that of technological application.  But a difficulty remains.  A fundamental contention of the applied science theory was that the basic sciences did all the thinking and did it in a nondirected or “pure” manner.  But, as I and others have shown in numerous case studies and examples, engineers sometimes do basic research as well as applied research. [39]  Similarly, science may be applied directly to technology.  I have never denied its reality and the importance of the direct application of science to technology.  Thus the term “the applied sciences” leads to semantic monstrosities such as “applied applied science” and “basic applied science,” as well as “applied basic science.”  The medical profession again pro-

36. Max Becker, ed., Handbuch der Ingenzeur-Wissenschaft (Leipzig, 1856-6 1).  Other editions appeared in 1856-58, 1861-73, 1861-70, 1863-73, and 1863-83.  (For a publication history, see National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints, vol. 42, p. 411.)

37. Leo von Willman, ed., Handbuch der Ingenieurwissenschaften, 5 vols. (Leipzig, 1904-20).

38. Friedrich Rapp, “Die Forschung in der Technik (bzw. Technologie) des 19 Jahrhunderts,” in Studien zur Wissenschaftstheorie des 19 Jahrhunderts, ed. A. Diemer (Meisenheim, 1978), pp. 189-224, esp. the “Ingenieurwissenschaften” (pp. 200-216) which includes notice of the scientific work of such German engineers as F. Retenbacher, K. Karmarsch, F. Reuleaux, L. Lewicki, J. Braunschinger, as well as enumerations of the foundation of engineering research laboratories.  This list could easily be very greatly extended.  See also Kurt KOppel, “Die Entwicklung der Ingenieurwissenschaften,” Verein Deutscher Ingenieure Zeitschrift 103 (August 1961): 1145-53.

39. “Mirror-Image Twins” (n. 19 above), pp. 572-77, and “The Conditions of Technological Development,” in Science, Technology and Society. A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective, ed. Ina Spiegel-Rosig and Derek J. de Solla Price (London and Beverly Hills, 1977), pp. 210-11.  See also Vincenti, “The Air-Propeller Tests” (n. 13 above), pp. 712-51, and the same author’s “Control-Volume Analysis: A Difference in Thinking between Engineering and Physics,” Technology and Culture 23 (April 1982): 145-74.  And also see Eda Fowlks Kranakis, “The French Connection: Giffard’s Injector and the Nature of Heat,” Technology and Culture 23 [January 1982): 3-38.


vides a helpful analogy.  The medical sciences were established long before William Whewell, in a stunning act of ideological imperialism, renamed “natural philosophy” as “science.”  The medical sciences, therefore, have avoided linguistic serfdom.  We have no problems with the term “medical science,” and we can (in principle) speak of both basic and applied (i.e., “clinical”) medical sciences without too much fear of contradiction or semantic confusion.

The term “engineering science” and its plural are by no means uncommon.  One source of the modern historical usage of the term “engineering science” was the well-known history of civil engineering of Hans Straub that appeared first in German in 1949 and was translated into English in 1952. [40]  Straub emphasized the vital role of both the basic and engineering sciences in the evolution of civil engineering.  James Kip Finch may have been the first English-speaking historian of technology to follow Straub’s example in using the term “engineering science.”  He, like Straub, traced this term back to Bernard Forest de Belidor’s La Science des Ingenieurs, published in 1729. [41]

“Engineering science” has received official recognition on various occasions.  In America an influential committee on engineering education in 1955 called for education for engineers in both “basic” and “engineering sciences.”  The committee followed what it termed “common practice” in dividing the engineering sciences into six major fields: mechanics of solids (including statics, dynamics, and strength of materials), fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, transfer and rate mechanisms (including heat, mass, and momentum transfer), electrical theory (including fields, circuits, and electronics), and the nature and properties of materials. [42]  There are, however, other lists that, while generally congruent, differ in many particulars, including the number and classification of engineering sciences and subfields. [43]  The term “engineering science” continues in fairly common usage.  There are a number of engineering books and journals with “engineering science” as part of their title; one of these, Basic Equations

40. Hans Straub, A History of Civil Engineering, trans. E. Rockwell (London, 1952), pp. 21, 61, 65,67, 105, passim.  The original edition was Die Geschichte derBauingenieurkunst (Basel, 1949).

41. James Kip Finch, “Engineering and Science: A Historical Review and Appraisal,” Technology and Culture 2 (Fall 1961): 323-25.

42. “Report of the Committee on Evaluation of Engineering Education,” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education 63 (1955-56): 37.

43. James H. Potter, ed., Handbook of the Engineering Sciences, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1967)


of Engineering Science, is one of those outline-type texts used by students to cram for exams. [44]

The engineering sciences have been known in Britain since Rankine’s time.  In the post-World War II era they took on a greater role in engineering education.  At Cambridge University the postwar curriculum increasingly emphasized work in these sciences.  The term “engineering science” was not unknown there.  One of the Cambridge engineering faculty members, Dr. J. A. Shercliffe, accepted a chair in “engineering science” at another British university. [45]

One can deny the separate existence of engineering sciences by an appeal to a “one science” doctrine.  The idea that there is only one science has been endorsed by Louis Pasteur, the National Science Board, and others. [46]  At one level, there can be no objection to this usage.  It is perfectly consistent for some purposes to say that all the sciences are one, and for other purposes to emphasize the differences among the sciences.  If we wish to examine the totality of all things utilizing scientific methods then we can lump all the sciences together.  For other purposes we may wish to divide sciences in functional terms: that is, distinguish between the basic sciences on the one hand and the technological sciences on the other. [47]  The latter category includes not only the engineering sciences but medical sciences and a complex set of agricultural sciences as well.

But Fores argues that the sciences are “one” in a metaphysical sense, and they cannot be separated into basic and engineering sciences.  This rests on a platonic view of science and indeed of knowledge.  He assumes that there is one and only one category into which an entity (like gold) can fit (p. 70).  This makes “science” and all of its subcategories into platonic forms.  From my point of view the most fundamental issue is that knowledge is best seen as existing in the minds of people, not as abstract platonic forms existing in some ideal realm.  Thinking of knowledge as something that exists only in the minds of humans serves to emphasize its social dimen-

44. William F. Hughes, Basic Equations of Engineering Science (New York, 1964), is part of Schaum’s Outline Series published by McGraw-Hill.

45. T. J. N. Hilken, Engineering at Cambridge University, 1783-1965 (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 199-254.  There are enumerations of engineering sciences in notes on pages 218, 220, 222, and passim.  Shercliffe was appointed professor of engineering science at the University of Warwick.

46. National Science Foundation, Only One Science: Twelfth Annual Report of the National Science Board (Washington, D.C., 1981); the “one science” quote from Pasteur is on both the title page and the first page.  The NSF title may have been a reply to powerful lobbying for additional funding on the part of the engineering sciences.

47. Layton, “The Conditions of Technological Development” (n. 39 above).


sions, including the vital purposive elements in the engineering sciences, and their link with the moral imperatives of engineering design.  It is from this perspective that we can look at the values and purposes that are associated with knowledge.  This is, as has been argued a necessary part of understanding the history of technology.  From the position taken by Fores, and on this issue by Koyré also, science is unchanging and divorced from society.  From this perspective one might make at best a “statics” of history of technology and of science.  But for historical “dynamics” knowledge must be seen in its full context.  Here too Fores’s philosophy is not helpful in gaining an understanding of social dimensions involved in the history of technology.

Fores explicitly includes in his one science artificial things such as electric circuits and synthetic chemicals.  He also denies that the form of the engineering sciences is different than the natural sciences.  The engineering sciences consist primarily of statements about human artifacts.  They are tailored to meet the needs of practical designers, and form follows function here as in biology.  For example, electrical engineering science is not identical with electrical physics.  Ronald Kline has recently done a study of the rise of electrical engineering science. [48]  It is a complex and fascinating story.  And it is clear from this and many other studies that formal differences between engineering sciences and corresponding basic sciences are a matter of empirically verifiable fact.

The platonic “one science” view, as a metaphysical proposition, cannot be refuted.  But Pasteur, who may have believed in “one science,” also believed in adopting fruitful hypotheses.  He was attacked because the medical establishment, unwilling to accept his results, rejected them as “theory.”  I believe that Pasteur’s reply also has relevance to some of the broader issues raised by Fores against me, so in conclusion I will quote Pasteur at some length:

You wish to upset what you call my theory, apparently in order to defend another; allow me to tell you by what signs these theories are recognized: the characteristic of erroneous theories is the impossibility of ever foreseeing new facts; whenever such a fact is discovered, those theories have to be grafted with further hypotheses in order to account for them.  True theories, on the contrary, are the expressions of actual facts and are characterized by being able to predict new facts, a natural consequence of those already known.  In a word, the characteristic of a true theory is its fruitfulness. [49]

48. Kline, “Charles P. Steinmetz” (n. 8 above).

49. Quoted in René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur (New York: Dover, 1960), p. 243.


The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy