Casuistry (pronEng|ˈkæʒuːɨstri) is an
applied ethicsterm referring to case-based reasoning. Casuistry is used in juridical and ethical discussions of lawand ethics, and often is a critique of principle-based reasoning. [ [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv1-35 "Casuistry", "Dictionary of the History of Ideas," University of Virginia Library. On line.] ]
Critics use the term pejoratively for the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions (see
sophistry). Casuistry is reasoning used to resolve moral problems by applying theoretical rules to particular instances.
For example, while a principle-based approach might claim that lying is always morally wrong, the casuist would argue that, depending upon the details of the case, lying might or might not be illegal or unethical. For instance, the casuist might conclude that a person is wrong to lie in legal
testimonyunder oath, but might argue that lying actually is the best moral choice if the lie saves a life ( Thomas Sanchezand others thus theorized a doctrine of mental reservation). For the casuist, the circumstances of a case are essential for evaluating the proper response.
Typically, casuistic reasoning begins with a clear-cut paradigmatic case (from "paradigm", the Greek word παράδειγμα, "paradeigma", "pattern" and "example", in turn derived from παραδεικνύναι "paradeiknunai", "demonstrate"). In legal reasoning, for example, this might be a
precedentcase, such as pre-meditated murder. From it, the casuist would ask how closely the given case currently under consideration matches the paradigmatic case. Cases like the paradigmatic case ought to be treated likewise; cases unlike the paradigm ought to be treated differently. Thus, a man is properly charged with pre-meditated murder if the circumstances surrounding his case closely resemble the exemplar pre-meditated murder case. The less a given case is like the paradigm, the weaker the justification is for treating that case "like" the paradigmatic case.
Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is also a branch of
applied ethics. Casuistry is the basis of case lawin common law, and the standard form of reasoning applied in common law.
The casuist morality
Casuistry takes a relentlessly practical approach to morality. Rather than using theories as starting points, casuistry begins with an examination of cases. By drawing parallels between
paradigms, so called "pure cases," and the case at hand, a casuist tries to determine a moral response appropriate to a particular case.
Casuistry has been described as "theory modest" (Arras, see below). One of the strengths of casuistry is that it does not begin with, nor does it overemphasize, theoretical issues. Casuistry does not require practitioners to agree about ethical theories or evaluations before making policy. Instead, they can agree that certain
paradigms should be treated in certain ways, and then agree on the similarities, the so-called warrants between a paradigm and the case at hand.
Since most people, and most cultures, substantially agree about most pure ethical situations, casuistry often creates ethical arguments that can persuade people of different ethnic, religious and philosophical beliefs to treat particular cases in the same ways. For this reason, casuistry is widely considered to be the basis for the English
common lawand its derivatives.
Casuistry is prone to abuses wherever the analogies between cases are false.
Western casuistry dates from Moses and
Aristotle(384–322 B.C.), yet the zenith of casuistry was from A.D. 1550 to A.D. 1650, when the Jesuitreligious order extensively used casuistry, particularly in practicing the private, Roman Catholic confessionFact|date=September 2008. The term "casuistry" quickly became pejorative with Blaise Pascal's attack on the misuse of casuistry. In " Provincial Letters" (1656–7) [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=cmlRK2ynRpoC&dq=pascal+%22provincial+letters%22&psp=1 Blaise Pascal, "The Provincial Letters of Blaise Pascal," tr. Thomas M'Crie, London Chatto & Windus (1898)] ] he scolded the Jesuits for using casuistic reasoning in confession to placate wealthy Church donors, whilst punishing poor penitents. Pascal charged that aristocratic penitents could confess their sins one day, re-commit the sin the next day, generously donate the following day, then return to re-confess their sins and only receive the lightest punishment; Pascal's criticisms darkened casuistry's reputation. Since the seventeenth century, casuistry has been widely considered a degenerate form of reasoning. Critics of casuistry focus on its specious argumentation as intentionally misleading.
It was not until publication of "The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning" (1988), by Albert Jonsen and
Stephen Toulmin, [Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin, "The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning," Berkeley, U. California Press (1990, ISBN 0-520-06960-9).] that a revival of casuistry occurred. They argue that the abuse of casuistry is the problem, not casuistry itself. (In itself an example of casuistic reasoning.) Properly used, casuistry is powerful reasoning. Jonsen and Toulmin offer casuistry in dissolving the contradictory tenets of absolutism and relativism: “the form of reasoning constitutive of classical casuistry is rhetorical reasoning”. [Jonsen, 1991, p. 297.] Moreover, Utilitarianismand Pragmatismcommonly are identified as philosophies employing the rhetorical reasoning of casuistry.
Casuistry in early modern times
The casuistic method was popular among Catholic thinkers in the early modern period, and not only among the
Jesuits, as it is commonly thought. Famous casuistic authors include Antonio Escobar y Mendoza's "Summula casuum conscientiae" (1627), which had enjoyed a great success, Thomas Sanchez, Vincenzo Filliucci(Jesuit and penitentiary at St Peter's), Antonino Diana, Paul Laymann("Theologia Moralis", 1625), John Azor("Institutiones Morales", 1600), Etienne Bauny, Louis Cellot, Valerius Reginaldus, Hermann Busembaum(d. 1668), etc. One of the main theses of casuists was the necessity to adapt the rigorous morals of the Early Fathers of Christianityto modern morals, which led in some extreme cases to justify what Innocent XIlater called "laxist moral" (i.e. justification of usury, homicide, regicide, lying through "mental reservation", adultery and loss of virginity before marriage, etc. — all due cases registered by Pascal in the " Provincial Letters").
The progress of casuistry was interrupted towards the middle of the 17th century by the controversy which arose concerning the doctrine of probabilism, which stipulated that one could choose to follow a "probable opinion," that is, supported by a theologian or another, even if it contradicted a more probable opinion or a quotation from one of the
Fathers of the Church.Fact|date=January 2008 The controversy divided Catholic theologians into two camps, Rigorists and Laxists.
Casuistry was much mistrusted by early Protestant theologians, because it justified many of the abuses that they sought to reform. It was famously attacked by the Catholic and
Jansenistphilosopher Pascal, during the formulary controversyagainst the Jesuits, in his Provincial Letters as the use of rhetoricsto justify moral laxity, which became identified by the public with Jesuitism; hence the everyday use of the term to mean complex and sophistic reasoning to justify moral laxity. By the middle of the 18th century, the name of "casuistry" became a synonym of moral laxity.Fact|date=January 2008
Pope Innocent XIpublicly condemned sixty-five of the more radical propositions ("stricti mentalis"), taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists as "propositiones laxorum moralistarum" and forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication. [ Kelly, J. N. D., The Oxford History of the Popes, Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0192820850 (p. 287). ] Despite this papal condemnation, both Catholicism and Protestantism permit the use of ambiguous and equivocal statements in specific circumstances. [ J.-P. Cavaillé, " [http://dossiersgrihl.revues.org/document281.html Ruser sans mentir, de la casuistique aux sciences sociales : le recours à l’équivocité, entre efficacité pragmatique et souci éthique] ", in Serge Latouche, P.-J. Laurent, O. Servais & M. Singleton, "Les Raisons de la ruse. Une perspective anthropologique et psychanalytique", Actes du colloque international « La raison rusée », Louvain la Neuve, mars 2001, Paris, La Découverte, 2004, pp. 93–118 fr icon.] Alphonsus Maria de Liguori(d. 1787), founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, then brought some attention back to casuistry by publishing again Hermann Busembaum's "Medulla Theologiae Moralis", the last edition of it being published in 1785 and receiving the approbation of the Holy Seein 1803.Fact|date=January 2008 Busembaum's "Medulla" had been burnt in Toulouse in 1757 because of its justification of regicide, deemed particularly scandalous after Damiens' assassination attempt against Louis XV.Fact|date=January 2008
Casuistry in modern times
In modern times, casuistry has successfully been applied to
law, bioethicsand business ethics, and its reputation is somewhat rehabilitated. G. E. Moore dealt with casuistry in chapter 1.4 of his " Principia Ethica"; he claimed that "the defects of casuistry are not defects of principle; no objection can be taken to its aim and object. It has failed only because it is far too difficult a subject to be treated adequately in our present state of knowledge." He also asserted, "Casuistry is the goal of ethical investigation. It cannot be safely attempted at the beginning of our studies, but only at the end." [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=ZLpcgAQvr_gC&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=%22the+defects+of+casuistry+are+not+defects+of+principle+no+objection+can+be+taken+to+its+aim+and+object+it+has+failed+only+because+it+is+far+too+difficult+a+subject+to%22&source=web&ots=31d6_MoIZ3&sig=pqA0H1IkL7FXgnnRo5Caq-_EWTA G. E. Moore, "Principia Ethica," (1903); 2nd ed. Thomas Baldwin, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge U. Press (1993), p. 57. ISBN 0521448484] ]
A good reference, analysing the methodological structure of casuistic argument, is "The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning" (1990), by Albert Jonsen and
Stephen Toulmin(ISBN 0-520-06960-9).
* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv1-35 "Dictionary of the History of Ideas":] Casuistry
* [http://www.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/accountancy.html Accountancy as computational casuistics] , article on how modern compliance regimes in accountancy and law apply casuistry
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03415d.htm Casuistry - Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.thegreatideas.org/apd-casu.html Mortimer Adler's Great Ideas - Casuistry]
* [http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/C/CA/CASUISTRY.htm 1911 Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.jeramyt.org/papers/casuistry.html Summary of casuistry by Jeramy Townsley]
* [http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/part2/casuistry/Casuistry.html Casuistry - Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy]
* [http://www.she-philosopher.com/library/tallmon.html Casuistry - Oxford Encyclopedia of Rhetoric] catalogued at she-philosopher.com
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