Casuistry-descending into the particulars

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.



  1. First off, I cannot believe this topic and your piece has no comments before now! I also regularly listen to Revisionist History, I usually like to binge listen while I’m working on the house or working alone. So I’m not sure how I had missed the three-part series Malcolm Gladwell did on Casuistry but I just recently listened to the episodes this past week and not only was it incredibly interesting to listen to the various storylines and their subjects, learning that it was a specific jesuit philosophy was new to me, as well. It’s a philosophy I’ve tried to espouse myself to and attempting to always be aware of – and honestly “check” – my own cognitive biases, but I’ve always attributed that as an aspect, and a duty, as one one who identifies as a staunch Atheist. Years of researching various religious text, dogma, “philosophy” and reasoning, I hadn’t come across this Jesuit concept. Once again, I find myself forced to check myself and adjust my thinking towards lumping all religion with a general distain. In any case, I simply wanted to say that in my researching into this philosophy after listening to the Revisionist History podcast, I came across your post on Casuistry (from 2019) which also introduced me to your other posts and I wanted to tell you that you have some very interesting thoughts and an enjoyable and effective writing style and narrative! I’m still going thru and reading many of your posts, so you’ll likely be receiving the occasional comment on some of your other posts, but I wanted to say I’m grateful for finding your writings and look forward to reading much more!

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