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Hans Radder, associate editor

Part I of this Handbook addresses the relationship between technology, engi-

neering and the sciences. On the one hand, this is an interesting and important
subject in its own right; on the other, it provides the necessary background to
several of the more focused chapters in the other parts of the Handbook. Look-
ing at this subject from a general perspective, three clusters of issues may be


First, there are questions concerning the appropriate terminology and the defini-
tions of the chosen relata. Why use ‘technology’ and not, for instance, ‘technics’
or ‘techniques’ ? Can the modern concept of engineering be taken to be equivalent
to the older notions of the mechanical or industrial arts? Does it make sense to
distinguish between engineering and engineering science? What to include among
the sciences: the natural sciences, the engineering sciences, the social sciences or
even, in the European tradition, the Geisteswissenschaften? A comprehensive dis-
cussion of such issues entails the task of providing more elaborate definitions of the
terms used. This leads to several further questions. The overarching question is
which variety of definition should be used. As is shown in detail in Carl Mitcham’s
chapter, there are at least five approaches available: etymological, essential, pre-
scriptive, linguistic, and pragmatic approaches to definition.
An important, related issue is this: what can, or should, be achieved by pro-
viding a definition? What I mean is the question of the nature of the relationship
between the definition and that what is being defined (the definiendum). Clearly,
how to answer this question will depend on the chosen variety of definition. A
logicist approach requires that the definition specifies a set of necessary and suf-
ficient conditions for the instances to which it applies. However, in the case of
wide-ranging and multidimensional notions, such as technology, engineering and
science, this proves to be hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Hence a more realistic
approach requires that the definition should capture key features or typical pat-
terns of the definiendum, or that it should specify significant family resemblances
among its instances. This is the approach taken in the chapters of this part of
the Handbook, sometimes explicitly, as in my own chapter, and sometimes more
implicitly, as in the chapter by Gerhard Banse and Armin Grunwald.

Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Volume 9: Philosophy of Technology and Engineering

Volume editor: Anthonie Meijers. General editors: Dov M. Gabbay, Paul Thagard and John
c 2009 Elsevier BV. All rights reserved.
24 Hans Radder, associate editor


Next to specifying the relata, we need to study the relationship between technology,
engineering and science. A crucial methodological issue is the existence of different
kinds of relations that may be studied. Again, from a general perspective the
following three approaches can be distinguished. We may look at the empirical
relations between technology, engineering and the various sciences. This approach
may include an historical account of the actual relations between technology and
the natural sciences, as can be found in David Channell’s chapter, or a study of
the (problematic) role of the social sciences in engineering and the engineering
sciences, as provided in the chapter by Knut Sørensen.
Although it is important that philosophers are knowledgeable about the ac-
tual practices of technology, engineering and the sciences, philosophy cannot be
limited to an empirical study of its subject matter. Hence, a second approach
focuses on conceptual relations: it characterizes technology, engineering and the
sciences through a conceptual specification of their similarities and dissimilarities.
This is the approach taken in the second chapter of this part, which addresses
the relationship between technology and natural science, and in the last chapter,
where the focus is on a conceptualization of the engineering sciences in relation to
natural sciences and technical practices. A subject which is occasionally discussed
in this part of the Handbook but which deserves more detailed (empirical and
conceptual) study, is the important role of technological instrumentation in the
various sciences.1
A third approach focuses on the relationship between technology, engineering
and the sciences from an evaluative perspective. How are the various relata eval-
uated and how should they be evaluated, both in themselves and as compared to
each other, and both as regards their epistemic value and in terms of their so-
cial and moral value? Although such questions crop up occasionally (for instance,
in my own chapter) and although several chapters in Part V of this Handbook
include relevant material, exploring these evaluative relations in more detail re-
mains an important task for further research in the philosophy of technology and
engineering sciences.2


Finally, different types of models are possible of each of these three kinds of re-
lationship and the corresponding relata. The first type may be called primacy
models. In these models, empirical, conceptual or evaluative primacy is given to
either technology, to engineering, or to science. Authors who emphasize the prac-
tical basis of engineering and science will often give primacy to technology, while
1 For some studies of scientific instrumentation and its philosophical significance, see the con-

tributions by Rom Harré, Davis Baird and Michael Heidelberger in [Radder, 2003].
2 A comprehensive historical discussion is presented in [Forman, 2007].
Introduction to Part I 25

authors who stress the scientific basis of engineering and technology will be in-
clined to assign primacy to science. The ‘humanities tradition’ in the philosophy
of technology frequently endorses the former position, while the ‘engineering tradi-
tion’ often advocates the latter.3 For instance, a ‘conceptual primacy of technology
model’ can be found in Heidegger’s philosophy of technology. The so-called linear
model of the science-technology relationship, discussed in several chapters, exem-
plifies a ‘primacy of science model’, which may be further specified as empirical
and/or conceptual and/or evaluative.
A second type of model rejects claims to primacy in favor of a two-way inter-
active approach, which assumes that technology, engineering and science are in-
dependent, yet interacting, entities. For instance, as described in the second and
fourth chapters of this part, without denying its interaction with scientific knowl-
edge, historians of technology have often emphasized the independent character of
technological knowledge. The third chapter both demonstrates the independence
of engineering from social science and implies that a greater interaction between
the two would be desirable. The fifth chapter provides an independent character-
ization of the engineering sciences in terms of its methods and goals, yet it also
emphasizes the significance of its interactions with practical technologies and basic
A third type of model is based on the idea of a seamless web: these mod-
els assume that technology, engineering and science are so strongly intertwined
that they cannot be sensibly distinguished. Because of the claimed seamlessness,
proponents of such models often use the notion of technoscience (see the second
and fourth chapters). Again, both interactive and seamless-web models may be
developed from an empirical, a conceptual or an evaluative perspective.
From this brief sketch of a comprehensive conceptual framework for studying
the relationship between technology, engineering and the sciences it will be clear
that the subject of this part of the Handbook covers a large variety of relevant
issues. On several of these issues, substantial work has been done and hence
this work is presented and reviewed in the subsequent chapters; on other, less
researched issues, the chapters of this part of the Handbook offer more exploratory
accounts; discussion of further issues can occasionally be found in other parts of
this Handbook (in particular, in Part VI); finally, still other issues have to await
the future development of the relatively young area of the philosophy of technology
and engineering sciences.

[Forman, 2007] P. Forman. The Primacy of Science in Modernity, of Technology in Postmoder-
nity, and of Ideology in the History of Technology History and Technology, 23, 1-152, 2007.
[Mitcham, 1994] C. Mitcham. Thinking through Technology. The Path between Engineering and
Philosophy. University of Chicago Press, 1994.
[Radder, 2003] H. Radder, ed. The Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation. University of
Pittsburgh Press, 2003.
3 For these two traditions, see [Mitcham, 1994].