University of Twente Student Theses


Phenomena in Engineering Science

Ommeren, Lizanne van (2011) Phenomena in Engineering Science.

[img] PDF
Abstract:In this thesis I investigate what phenomena in engineering science are. Engineering science is the field of science that deals with the scientific understanding of engineering— designing, constructing, and maintaining of constructions, machines, and materials. The aim of engineering science is the understanding of phenomena that determine the working of devices or materials for the purpose of application. This makes that the role phenomena play in engineering science differs from other sciences. To come to a good understanding of phenomena in engineering science, my main question is: What is a phenomenon in engineering science? To answer to this question I investigate the possible roles and functions phenomena in engineering science can have. I address how phenomena are used, what the work they do is, what their characteristic are and why they are needed. I answer these questions based on a literature study in the philosophy of science and on a case study of five articles in engineering science and come to an overall answer, which will give an account of phenomena in the engineering sciences. In the philosophy of science, Hacking was the first to define phenomena from a scientist's perspective. “A phenomenon is noteworthy. A phenomenon is discernible. A phenomenon is commonly an event or process of a certain type that occurs regularly under definite circumstances” (Hacking, 1983, p. 221). Bogen and Woodward (1988) took this definition and added to it the very relevant distinction between data and phenomena. A phenomenon is a potential explanandum for a theory, and data are the evidence for this explanandum. Based on the philosophical literature I defend a vision on phenomena in which they are both ontologically and epistemologically created. This is a combination of Hacking's (1983) view that physical phenomena are experimentally created, and Rouse's (2009) view that phenomena are conceptually articulated in language. Creating a phenomenon is both an epistemic and ontological achievement. With this vision of phenomena I try to overcome the realism discussion, which up till now has dominated the philosophical literature on phenomena. The discussion is whether we can make truth claims about unobservable phenomena—the realist say you can, the empiricists say you cannot. I use a Kantian perspective that says that both observable and unobservable phenomena are conceptualized in our minds on the basis of sense input from the outside April 25, 2011 Page 2 of 92 Master Thesis PSTS/PoT E.J. van Ommeren world. For the case study I study five mechanical engineering articles that deal with heat transfer in fiber-reinforced composites. This case study shows some interesting characteristic of phenomena. First of all, engineering scientists focus their research on the target system. In the philosophy of science literature phenomena are always discussed in relation to theory; either in the context of discovery—as an initiator for the discovery of theories—or in the context of justification—as proof for theories. My case study shows that phenomena are used in the context of construction—they are experimentally created to intervene with the target system, and conceptually articulated in models to make predicting and thinking about the target system possible. Models are epistemic tools. When a phenomenon is modeled, hypotheses are made in the context of the target system. Secondly, phenomena are specific to their target system. The target system creates the conditions of possibility for a phenomena to occur. Phenomena do thus not already exist in the world, as natural kinds, but their preconditions do. A third observation is that the engineering scientists in my case study use the regulatory principle of ‘same condition – same effect’ as presented by Boon (forthcoming). They do this in the way phenomena are experimentally created as in the way phenomena are conceptually articulated. Only the part op the experimental setup that is changed is responsible for a different outcome. My conclusion from both the case study and the literature study is that in engineering science phenomena are ontological en epistemic creations that are used in service of the target system. The work a phenomenon does in modeled form is that they make hypothesizing and thinking about intervening possible; as a physical creation it makes physical intervening with the target system possible. This is also the reason why phenomena in engineering science are needed.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
Link to this item:
Export this item as:BibTeX
HTML Citation
Reference Manager


Repository Staff Only: item control page