In defense of a little theory

William D. Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


It is common to hear students in today's engineering programs remark, "Theory is useless .... Please get past it and give practical instruction." This complaint seems odd, given that these same students aspire to be the masters of technology in our complex twenty-first century culture. But the complaint is not new. Most engineering schools appeared in America in the mid-nineteenth century, directly in response to the growth of engineering science. But then, interestingly enough, it was the established engineer, not the student, who disdained theory. The self-styled nineteenth century engineer whose knowledge base was his experience tended to take a dim view of the university graduate and regarded theoretical education as "not being very practical." In contrast to these two extremes, this paper argues that theory promotes understanding, and understanding enables engineers to develop the practical expression of judgment and intuition vital to the engineering profession.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-211
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2002


  • Computer software
  • Engineering education
  • History
  • Professional role
  • Teaching methods
  • Theories


Dive into the research topics of 'In defense of a little theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this