The first thing we are going to do, before determining the meaning of the term casuistry, is to discover its etymological origin. In this case, we can determine that it derives from Latin and that it is the result of the sum of several clearly delimited components:
-The noun “cause”, which is synonymous with “reason”.
-The suffix “-ista”, which is used to indicate “office” or as a synonym for “supporter of”.
-The suffix “-ico”, which is used to indicate “relative to”.
The idea of casuistry is used in the field of applied ethics to refer to an analysis of different specific cases that are expected in a certain context. In this way, casuistry differs from reasoning that is based on rules or principles.
In other words, what casuistry does is consider particular cases for the resolution of moral dilemmas, taking care of the application of the rules in specific circumstances. The moral precepts, therefore, are applied to specific situations caused by the action of the human being and not something abstract.
These questions allow us to discover that casuistry is not only a branch of so-called applied ethics: it is also a method of reasoning and even a basis for the development of jurisprudence in the framework of common law.
Suppose a man who has no money or a job decides to steal food from a market to feed his son. Moral reasoning may hold that stealing is always wrong. According to these rules, theft is inherently wrong from a moral point of view. An approach that appeals to casuistry, on the other hand, would pay attention to the particularities of the specific case and could reach the conclusion that the man’s behavior does not constitute a moral fault. In fact, having obtained food for his son is an option that, morally, transcends theft, since with this action he managed to survive his descendant. This shows that the same action can be considered in opposite ways based on different reasoning methods.
Other data of interest on the casuistry are the following:
-There is already knowledge of casuistry in Ancient Greece. Specifically, it was used during the time of the philosopher Aristotle.
-It is considered, however, that the moment of greatest splendor of the aforementioned casuistry took place between the middle of the 16th century and the mid-17th century.
-Numerous are the works that have been published on casuistry. However, we cannot ignore that one of the most important works in this regard is “The abuse of casuistry: history of moral reasoning.” It is a work published in the decade of the 80’s, specifically in 1988, and it is written by Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin.
-In the field of science, casuistry is also used very frequently. A good example of this is that it is used, for example, to be able to observe and analyze certain phenomena of Mother Nature. What is achieved from this work is to use that one to later establish different theories about, for example, pathologies of different kinds.