Social Impact Analysis
Ethics in Computing Links
How can these ethics tests be used?
Here are four uses for these ethics tests:
- They can be used to uncover ethical problems
embedded in concrete situations. For example, the reversibility test
asks us to consider whether any rights are placed at risk by the contemplated
course of action. The harm test prompts us to look for risks that are
embedded in a given situation, and those likely to bear them. The publicity
test helps us to see if the integrity of the agent is at risk in a given
situation. Hence, the ethics tests help us to formulate ethical problems
and to identify stakeholders and their stakes.
- The ethics tests can also be used to evaluate
alternatives of action. Consider the following scenario: Your
supervisor asks you to dump a drum full of toxic chemicals out in the
field behind the plant. Should you do it, refuse to do it, refuse to
do it and turn your supervisor in to the local authorities, or resign
and get a new job? The ethics tests provide us with standards we
can use to evaluate these alternatives. For example, doing as your supervisor
asks could (1) harm the environment and the health of people who live
near the plant, (2) violate the reversibility test since it ignores
their rights (especially if done secretly and without their consent),
and (3) be viewed as cowardly by others were it to be publicly displayed.
- The ethics tests also play a fundamental, constitutive
role in constructing solutions to ethical problems that arise in
the real world. For example in the above scenario, you would envision
a solution that minimizes harm, is reversible with all stakeholders
and preserves your integrity. With this in mind, you could inform your
supervisor that dumping these chemicals is illegal and could be readily
traced back to the company. Then you could provide concrete suggestions
for redesigning the manufacturing process so that it would not produce
toxic byproducts. The manufacturing process, through this new design,
would become informed by ethical considerations: it would minimize harm,
respect the public's right to a safe environment, and maintain the integrity
of the agents involved. Here the ethics tests would play a constitutive
role by shaping the very nature of the solution.
Finally, these tests provide reasons that can
be appealed to in making ethical arguments. In the above scenario, you
have reasons for refusing to carry out your supervisor's order: for example,
it would produce harm (violate the harm test), place others at risk (which
is not reversible), and expose you as a cowardly person who callously
exposes others to severely diminished environmental and personal health.
Students, armed with these standards, can use them to justify their arguments.
Hence, the ethics tests structure and guide class discussion