Are engineers instrumentalists?

TitleAre engineers instrumentalists?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNewberry, B.
Secondary TitleTechnology in society

Engineers are often assumed to be instrumentalists, meaning they believe that technologies and technological artifacts are intrinsically value-free, only acquiring moral significance at the point at which they are employed by human agents for particular uses. Instrumentalism of this sort is often criticized in the literature on technology and society, and thus engineers tend to fall subject to that criticism. In this essay, I explore the legitimacy of that claim and conclude that it is not correct per se, but that engineers are what might be called proximate instrumentalists. That is, they tend to develop an instrumental attitude about those technologies with which they have the most expertize, and that this attitude is not necessarily reflective of a more general conscious adherence to an instrumentalist philosophy. In this course of arguing this point, I explore more generally many aspects of the overall engineering ethos.