Values in Technical Pursuits

As a working software engineer with a strong liberal arts orientation, I stress the role of rational value judgment in engineering. Some engineers or managers may want to prematurely reduce “tradeoffs” to numerical computation. The problem with that is, interesting design and policy questions typically involve somehow trying to weigh different dimensions against one another when they have no natural common measure. The only way out of this involves making implicit or explicit value judgments about the relative importance of different things.

To a trusted few, with thoughts like this in mind I have quipped that Plato and Aristotle taught me more about designing software than all my computer science courses. Some people are not very open-minded about things like this. I still vividly recall how one senior guy got positively angry at the “waste of time” induced by one line of PowerPoint mentioning Aristotelian syllogism as an easy way to understand the logical meaning of function composition in code for data-driven reasoning.

Engineering education should more explicitly address general reasoning, and for that we need liberal arts.