Part I History of Ethics
Life of Socrates
Greek Moral Philosophy
Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern
Section 5: 20th
Century Analytic Moral Philosophy
Part II Concepts and Problems
Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 4: Deontological
Section 5: Virtue
Section 6: Liberal
Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics
Section 8: Case-based
Section 9: Moral
Part III Applied Ethics
Field of Applied Ethics
The Topic of Euthanasia
Module: A Right to Die? The Dax
The Topic of Abortion
Module: The Issue of Abortion in
Case Theory, Practice, Casuistry
Theoretical and Practical Arguments
REAL SITUATIONS are more COMPLEX than typical examples reveal. Certainly
an ABSOLUTIST approach is TOO RIGID and a complete RELATIVIST TOO OPEN.
Furthermore, real world problems often show the LIMITS of MERELY APPLYING
a 'utilitarian calculus' or a 'set of rules.'
There are also cases in which people of GOOD CONSCIENCE even DISAGREE
about which prima facie duties are applicable or which have an overriding
This doesn't mean that discussions about moral theory are fruitless,
but it does imply that the movement from 'theory' to 'practice' is not
simply a matter of 'application.' [Jonsen and
Toulmin provide the background for this section.]
THEORETICAL ARGUMENTS are NOT DEPENDENT on the CIRCUMSTANCES of their
presentation. Their VALIDITY is NOT AFFECTED by the PRACTICAL CONTEXT
of their use:
For example: (1) All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates
is mortal and (2) Lying is wrong, Jones lied, therefore Jones did something
PRACTICAL ARGUMENTS draw on the outcomes of PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE, carrying
over PROCEDURES USED TO RESOLVE EARLIER PROBLEMS and REAPPLYING THEM in
NEW PROBLEMATIC SITUATIONS.
Casuistry and a Case-Based Approach to Ethics
CASUISTRY is a form of PRACTICAL ARGUMENT that explores the RELATIONSHIP
between assumed MORAL PARADIGMS (prima facie duties) and PROBLEMATIC INSTANCES
A Brief History of Casuistry
Cicero and the Nature of Classical Rhetoric
In "On Duty" the Roman Marcus Cicero (106 - 43 BC) wrote the
first 'case book' on situations where 'conflicts of duty' appear to
We need to consider "what is most needful in each individual case,"
he wrote, and that "different circumstances should be carefully
scrutinized in every instance" (AC p. 79)
In "On Invention" Cicero states that the major activity of
rhetoric is "...the discovery of true or apparently true arguments
that will render one's case plausible" (AC p. 85).
The elements of classical rhetoric included:
Concentration on the PARTICULAR SITUATION about which there was an
Discussion of the PRIMA FACIE DUTIES that were relevant to the
Presentation of ARGUMENTS that were appropriate to either side;
A move toward RESOLUTION in arriving at a verdict or judgment.
From around the 6th Century AD individual confession and penance became
customary in the Church. And books written to guide the clergy and the
faithful became the first example of Medieval Casuistry.
The medieval term for 'casuistry' is translated from casus conscientitae
or 'cases of conscience.' It involved the study and discussion of difficult
cases, cases that would provoke a perplexed conscience. Pope Gregory
I (540-604) noted that the text in the Book of Job, "the sinews
of Behemoth's testicles are tightly entwined (perplexi)...," indicated
that the temptations of the Devil are such as to cause 'perplexity'
to good people (AC p. 95).
These kinds of cases required both a practical and theological understanding
of terms such as 'conscience,' 'prudence,' and 'circumstance.'
The Society of Jesus combined classical rhetoric with Christian case
studies and raised casuistry to new heights during the period from 1556
In this period of rapid social, political and economic change, new 'cases
of conscience' were constantly being posed by new circumstances. For
example, conflicting loyalties caused by the Reformation.
The Jesuits were the first 'worldly' order -- they counseled the nobility
and the emerging mercantile class on public matters such as treaties
and social order and used casuistical methods throughout.
The "Provincial Letters" (1656) by Blaise Pascal attacked
the LAXITY caused by an excessive casuistry that seeks 'probable' opinions
on every side of a difficult case. The method of casuistry came to be
seen as a source of excuse-making.
Furthermore, the period of the Enlightenment began moving the 'foundations'
of morals and society away from religious 'orders.'
Specific attacks against the Jesuits and new philosophical movements
led to a decline of casuistry as a method for doing moral philosophy.
[By the end of the 19th Century, for example, the Cambridge "Knightbridge
Chair of Casuistic Divinity" evolved into the "Knightbridge
Chair of Moral Philosophy."]