Business and Professional Practices
Full Session with Abstracts
The engineering profession has been described as harnessing the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of humankind, a goal that it has accomplished over much of its history. However, contemporary challenges bring into question how well we can continue to harness nature and to what extent innovative technology should be part of the solution. These considerations are well known to engineers trying to tackle challenges that fall under the umbrellas of sustainability and resilience, both of which include disciplines beyond structural engineering. Although in some cases, an engineered solution may not be the answer to our problems and may often cause even greater problems, we have become ill-equipped to think of challenges and solutions as anything but technological in nature. For example, in the area of resilience, we know that a resilient community depends not only on well-engineered structures but on the social and political nature of the communities in which those structures are found. In both of these areas, a balance needs to be sought between the benefits of an engineered solution and the benefits of allocating resources elsewhere. To meet our stated goals as a profession, we need to both produce technically excellent solutions and reflect occasionally on our greater goals. Most of Structures Congress is understandably and correctly dedicated to the former, as most engineers work solely in this area. This talk is an opportunity for senior engineers (and those aiming at those roles in the future) to reflect the greater goals of our profession and society. The challenge addressed in this talk is an underdeveloped conceptual scheme for understanding human and societal needs and the means to achieve them. This talk addresses these challenges by remembering insights from ancient philosophy, primarily Greek thought, in particular, Stoicism, and applying these insights to contemporary problems. We will review and apply ancient insight about the nature of human flourishing, the exercise of practical wisdom, dealing with uncertainty, and other pertinent topics, with the ultimate goal of improving the effectiveness of engineers in addressing contemporary problems.