Analysis of the adequacy of engineering design methods, as well as analysis of the utility of concepts of function often invoked in these methods, is a neglected topic in both philosophy of technology and in engineering proper. In this paper, I present an approach—dubbed an explanationist perspective—for assessing the adequacy of function-based design methods. Engineering design is often intertwined with explanation, for instance, in reverse engineering and subsequent redesign, knowledge base-assisted designing, and diagnostic reasoning. I argue that the presented approach is useful for validating function-based design methods with respect to their explanatory elements and that it supports assessment of the explanatory and design utility of “function”, and the different conceptualizations thereof, as used in such engineering design methods. I deploy two key desiderata from the explanation literature to assess the viability of function-based design methods: explanatorily relevant difference-making factors and counterfactual understanding defined in terms of what-if-things-had-been-different questions. I explicate the approach and its merits in terms of two case studies drawn from the engineering functional modeling literature: reverse engineering and redesign and malfunction analysis. I close the paper by discussing ramifications of the presented approach for the philosophy of design and the philosophy of explanation.
Philosophy & Technology – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 3, 2014