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Feasibility Test:

The feasibility test brings in a series of practical constraints by asking whether the selected alternative can be implemented given time, financial, legal, personal, and social constraints. By focusing the decision-maker on these constraints, the feasibility test helps to integrate ethical considerations with other aspects of a decision.

This integration of the ethical and the social is a central point of the ImpactCS approach to computer ethics. It is also an important issue for whether or not we can hold a person responsible for an action. The more an action is infeasible, the less one may have an obligation to do it. There are hard cases where this is not true (where, for instance, one may be require to try to do something, knowing it may fail).

Steps in Applying the Feasibility Test

Consider each of the following practical constraints that might bear on the proposed action:

  • Time: Is there a deadline within which your solution has to be enacted? Is this deadline fixed or is it negotiable?
  • Financial: Are there cost constraints on your solution? Are these fixed or are they negotiable?
  • Legal: Does your proposed alternative violate any laws or regulations? Are the legal constraints in line with the results of your ethical evaluation? If not, what can you do to align them?
  • Personal: Do the personalities of the people involved offer any constraints? For example, would your supervisor be open to persuasion, negotiation, or compromise? Or is he or she a dogmatic, close-minded, and inflexible person?
  • Social, Cultural, or Political: Consider where your solution is being implemented. How would its impact be viewed through the social, cultural, and political milieu in which it is being enacted? Think of these issues using the several levels of analysis in the ImpactCs framework.

Problems with the Feasibility Test

Problem: Students think that the legal requirements trump ethical ones.

Solution: Often, students fall into this trap because of a lack of moral imagination. That is, they see the legal rule and simply say "Well, there's your answer." This may be used when wanting to follow a course of action that is shady in ethical terms, but "perfectly legal." This is done as a way of ending the search rather than beginning it. There are two things you can try in this case. First, emphasize the other tests and what they say, independent of the legal test. These tests are way to determine if a law is unjust. Second, ask students if they can think of an instance where a legal rule was clearly morally wrong (e.g. slavery in the US).