I came across the notion of ‘casuistry’ this week for the first time.
It was in an excellent podcast by Malcolm Gladwell who started off the discussion by firstly looking at a case of a famous baseball player in the United States who was fond to have used prohibited substances to continue his career.
Without going into that case in any great detail-as it may only be an example of casuistry-I discovered that the Jesuits and Saint Ignatius of Loyola used casuistry in deciding moral questions.
Casuistry then is the use of case-based reasoning and a descent into the particulars of a particular case to arrive at the correct ‘answer’, rather than the use of dogmatic, unrelenting principles.
For example, we all accept that lying is morally wrong; this is a general principle. But if lying in a particular set of circumstances saved a life or lives surely it would be justified.
Casuistry or Jesuitism is used to adopt a case by case approach to moral questions rather than an absolutist application of principles. Casuistic reasoning takes a practical, pragmatic case by case approach to moral questions and is not overly concerned with theoretical arguments.
Casuistry has been criticised widely down through the centuries but appears to have undergone a revival since the 1960s.
In legal reasoning the use of a precedent or paradigmatic case by the casuist would allow him to see how closely the instant case resembles the paradigmatic case. It may even be argued that the reliance on precedent cases in legal reasoning is an example of casuistry in action.