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In applied ethics, casuistry (pronounced /ˈkæʒuːɨstri/) is case-based reasoning. Casuistry is used in juridical and ethical discussions of law and ethics, and often is a critique of principle- or rule-based reasoning.[1] The term "casuistry" originates from the Latin casus ("case").

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.



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. The casuist might conclude that a person is wrong to lie in legal testimony under oath, but might argue that lying actually is the best moral choice if the lie saves a life. (Thomas Sanchez and 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. In legal reasoning, for example, this might be a precedent case, 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 law in common law, and the standard form of reasoning applied in common law.

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