In January, the the journal Synthese accepted and published the first of two papers of mine on the philosophy of engineering. The second installment is now also accepted and published: “Critical rationalism and engineering: methodology” (author’s preprint here). Woot! In the new paper I use the three worlds schema from the first paper to look at possible sources and responses to falsification of engineering theories. I also discuss the growth of knowledge in engineering. Finally, I talk about assurance in engineering. There are perhaps more open questions than answers, but the questions are important and interesting.
Assurance is key for engineering. Engineers design and create artefacts that other people use. But engineers don’t just throw artefacts “over the wall” (or into the market) – they also warrant that those artefacts can be used to meet people’s needs. Those assurances don’t just get made up. They are backed by explicit justifications – arguments using empirically-validated engineering theories. For safety-critical systems, if those arguments are invalid or those theories are false, people will die or get hurt. That’s why it’s worth understanding engineering epistemology.