Engineers Need the Liberal Arts

In its development, the American engineering profession has drawn upon two competing yet complementary traditions: the hands-on, muddy-boots pragmatism inherited from Britain and the elite, science-oriented approach of the French polytechnique. Science and mathematics gradually have taken a central position, with emphasis being placed upon their creative application. The less theoretical “hardware” aspects of technology have been delegated in part to graduates of two-year technici

Samuel Florman
Nov 29, 1987

In its development, the American engineering profession has drawn upon two competing yet complementary traditions: the hands-on, muddy-boots pragmatism inherited from Britain and the elite, science-oriented approach of the French polytechnique. Science and mathematics gradually have taken a central position, with emphasis being placed upon their creative application. The less theoretical “hardware” aspects of technology have been delegated in part to graduates of two-year technician courses and four-year programs in engineering technology. Pure science has been left to the scientists. Business management has developed into a discipline of its own, although economic parameters remain central to an engineer’s tasks.

But while engineers have performed miracles, and seen their profession grow to ever higher levels of knowledge and skill, it has not been without cost. The increasing technical content of even the most elemental en- gineering education has inevitably changed the nature of that education, forcing out peripheral concerns and all...

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