By way of attempting to elaborate an this suggestion, consider the following speculative observations:
1. The great temptation of any game is for it to become too self-contained, an activity of purely aesthetic pleasure or technical achievement. Insofar as all play becomes not a temporary separation from quotidian realities, but a pull away from life, it becomes subject to social criticism. The artist concerned only with form, the engineer concerned only with technical solutions—the pursuit of art for art’s sake, engineering for the sake of engineering—can be challenged by more inclusive issues and social orders.
2. The human practice of designing simply as designing can be said to deepen the tendency inherent in all play by exhibiting a marked inclination to distance the designer from self-examination or social responsibility. Studies of the psychology and behavior of computer hackers dramatically confirm this point, but it is hinted at as well by the ethos of each design tradition. The engineering tradition of obedience and the avant-garde tradition of independence in the arts are but two expressions of disjunctions, from self and community.
3. Designing, unlike more limited forms of play, constitutes a general pulling away from or bracketing of the world that can have immediate practical impact. The paradoxical strengths of the mathematization and modeling of modern design are that, more effectively than ever before, they separate from the world of experience and provide new levers for the technological manipulation of that world. Modern designing opens itself to being pulled back into the world beyond anything that designers themselves might imagine, desire, or plan. Hence, again, there exists a fundamental obligation to remember the materials, return to real things, and not let miniature making become so miniature that it ceases to reflect and engage the world.
4. Perhaps nowhere is the challenge of remembering reality more important than in computer-aided design. Although tremendously powerful and attractive, computer-aided design is equally dangerous, precisely because even more than designing with pencil and paper against a background of practical experience with real-world artifacts, design with computers works in a rarefied medium with a facility that tends to deny the need for worldly experience. As Eugene Ferguson has argued, To accomplish a design of any considerable complexity—a passenger elevator or a railroad locomotive or a large heat exchanger in an acid plant—requires a continuous stream of calculations, judgments, and compromises that should only be made by engineers experienced in the kind of system being designed. The “big” decisions obviously should be based an intimate, firsthand, internalized knowledge of elevators, locomotives, or heat exchangers.
5. But just as obviously, in a society in which elevators, locomotives, and heat exchangers are increasingly run by computers, and children rather than playing with trains play with video game trains, it is difficult to cultivate an intimate, firsthand, internalized knowledge of material reality. Virtual experience is no substitute for physical experience. The problems of design are not isolated in design. They are part of, even at one with, the larger material world and culture as a whole. To return to real things is a challenge throughout the ways of life characteristic of postmodern society.
6. The real experience of struggling to return to real things taking ethics beyond fundamental principles into specific cases will be the basis for development of a phronesis of the techno-lifeworld.
The problems with design are not just technical or aesthetic but also ethical. Indeed, introducing ethics into design revels the deepest aspects of our difficulties. But the difficulties we face cannot begin to be addressed without clear-sightedness. To attempt to recognize them is itself to struggle for the right and the good.
Dieser Essay wurde mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Autors entnommen aus:
Mitcham, Carl: Steps toward a Philosophy of Engineering. Historico-Philosophical and Critical Essays. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
-  See, for example, Turkle, Sherry (1984), The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster, especially chapter 4.
-  Ferguson, Eugene S. (1992), Engineering and the Mind’s Eye. Cambridge: MIT Press, p. 37.
-  This essay owes some improvements, though still no doubt not enough, to critical comments from Tim Casey (University of Scranton).
»Sprache für die Form«, Ausgabe Nr. 18, Frühjahr 2021