Casuistry as methodology in clinical ethics

Abstract
This essay focuses on how casuistry can become a useful technique of practical reasoning for the clinical ethicist or ethics consultant. Casuistry is defined, its relationship to rhetorical reasoning and its interpretation of cases, by employing three terms that, while they are not employed by the classical rhetoricians and casuists, conform, in a general way, to the features of their work. Those terms are (1) morphology, (2) taxonomy, (3) kinetics. The morphology of a case reveals the invariant structure of the particular case whatever its contingent features, and also the invariant forms of argument relevant to any case of the same sort: these invariant features can be called topics. Taxonomy situates the instant case in a series of similar cases, allowing the similarities and differences between an instant case and a paradigm case to dictate the moral judgment about the instant case. This judgment is based, not merely on application of an ethical theory or principle, but upon the way in which circumstances and maxims appear in the morphology of the case itself and in comparison with other cases. Kinetics is an understanding of the way in which one case imparts a kind of moral movement to other cases, that is, different and sometimes unprecedented circumstances may move certain marginal or exceptional cases to the level of paradigm cases. In conclusion, casuistry is the exercise of prudential or practical reasoning in recognition of the relationship between maxims, circumstances and topics, as well as the relationship of paradigms to analogous cases.
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