Functional Decomposition: On Rationality and Incommensurability in Engineering

The concept of technical function is a key concept to describe technical artifacts and artifacts-to-be-designed. Engineers often give such descriptions in terms of functional decomposition models, which represent relationships between functions and sets of other (sub) functions. Despite the importance of the concept of function there is no consensus among engineers about its meaning. Models of functional decomposition are likewise conceptually divergent. Although this conceptual diversity hampers information exchange between engineers, they accept and maintain it. Engineers do not, by and large, engage in a focused debate to establish commonly shared functional conceptualizations. This contrasts with science where both debates on the adequacy of key conceptualizations and convergence toward shared conceptualizations are common. This book investigates the side-by-side usage of different functional decomposition models in engineering. It explains this phenomenon by applying and extending the analysis of theory choice in terms of methodological incommensurability to engineering functional decomposition, rather than to science. This analysis shows that engineers’ usage of competing functional decomposition models is rational from a practical point of view. This book furthermore investigates the communication problems that the side-by-side usage of different models engenders and presents a strategy that supports the exchange and re-use of functional information between engineers.
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