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THE BENEFIT OF PHILOSOPHY TO THE

ENGINEERING STUDENT.

BY BASSETT JONES, JR.,

Consulting Engineer.

The philosophy of education can hardly receive adequate treatment in the space of a short paper, but I believe it is a subject that does not have the attention it deserves, particularly, at the hands of technical men.

You will observe, I think, that few of the papers that have been presented to this society do more than review or discuss particular methods in special branches of professional education. While this is fully within the aim of these gatherings, yet it seems right that a study of the object of education should be considered equally as important as a study of the subject of education.

My thesis is not an easy one to present to you. The very abstractness of the argument requires for its development what may sometimes appear as abstract language; but philosophy, like law, depends for a statement of its theses upon the use of unambiguous and exact technical phraseology. Probably you will disagree with my conclusions more often than you agree with them. But if what I have to say presents to you in any way a fresh point of view, then indeed my purpose will have been accomplished.

The ideas to be presented in this paper had their origin in an attempt to overcome a feeling that there was something distinctly lacking in my own education, and I have since become convinced that at no period of my education, which was according to the prevailing system, could this want have been supplied. The omission was so keenly felt that a solution of the difficulty was sought in self training with more or less satisfactory results, but unsatisfactory because in the time available but a small part of the work to be done could be encompassed, and this only in disconnected fragments.

I do not feel that an apology for referring here to my own experience is necessary. My appeal is to be for a closer study of the self, since of necessity it is only through the experience of the self that the larger experience of the world can be reached.

I had completed the curriculum offered; I then supposed I was fitted to accept and fulfill any duties which my new profession of engineering might present to me. Yet when I came to face the world independent of others and dependent on my own efforts, I soon realized that, far from being ended, my education had just begun. That I realized little of what lay before me, I believe was due to the fact that, generally speaking, my teachers knew as little about it as I.

According to the usual methods, I had been trained to observe and classify certain special orders of facts. I had been taught to argue more or less correctly from such facts as premises to certain special results, and to embody these results in concrete form. With this preparation I was to journey forth into the world and make it my home. As one looks back on this venture it seems indeed a forlorn hope. Of the world into which I had come I knew nothing, yet a knowledge of its relations to me and my work seemed essential to my success in life. Now, by success in life I do not mean success in money-making, nor do I mean success in a chosen profession. Both are very desirable I admit, but desirable only as means to an end -namely, to live.

Thus I argued. Here am I a self-conscious individual pitted against the world, and, to me, this world is mostly a chaos of conflicting aims and efforts. Life appears as a ceaseless and ruthless struggle for supremacy-an eternal battle between the weak and the strong, physically and mentally. This, it seems, is a fundamental law. How then am I to so conduct myself that I may become one of the fit? Am I to confine my efforts to my chosen profession? But this is impossible. My profession cannot be separated from the rest of the world and treated as an independent entity, for I observe that my work is inseparably linked to that of others, that my interests and other interests are, in reality, one and the same. Indeed, try as I will, every idea of mine can obtain but a partial fulfillment if studied only in the light of what I have learned, and I observe that this is true, not only of professions but of every field of human endeavor and thought. Not a single fact but has its being bound up with the being of the world as a whole. No present experience that does not require all past and future experience to properly develop its meaning. Thus my argument brought me to an understanding of that true unity of human effort that is the foundation of all that is either good or wise.

Now these are indubitable facts that any one who attempts to grasp even a single aspect of the world must accept and apply. Thus observed, the world loses all of its sinister character. Strife, hatred and immorality are seen in their true light as the outcome of ignorance. The real struggle of the world is to gain a harmony of purpose. This struggle is due to a continuous development towards ideality-not the idle perfection of the mystic ideal—but a life that can give the fullest expression to the best of which our race is capable.

It was in failing to teach me the basic principles of life that my education was amiss. I was given a tool, but knew nothing of the nature of the material with which I was to work. And this, it seems to me, is an essential defect to be found in all present systems of technical education.

It is idle to object that a knowledge of life can only be gained by experience. It would be equally true to say the same of engineering. If it is necessary that we should be educated to fit us for the duties of a profession, it is, at least, equally important that we should receive an education that will fit us for the duties of life. The first makes a machine of the student. The second makes him a living being.

Nor can you object that this training for life is the object and duty of the home schooling, for I accept your objection, but I add this, that the home is the proper school for life only when life is there studied, not after the usual haphazard methods, but as a subject worthy of careful analysis and scientific treatment. Life in our world has become so complicated and withal so little understood, that a man needs more than hereditary instinct and the influence of a too often biased and prejudiced attitude to guide him aright. Whether good or evil is to be predominant in his life is purely a matter of whether he has been so trained that he can foresee what deeds of his will bring his life into harmony with the life about him,

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