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Noun. Early 17th century.
A person, especially a theologian, who resolves cases of conscience, duty, etc;
a sophist, a quibbler.
casuistic, casuistical adjectives of or pertaining to casuists or casuistry M17
casuistically adverb L17
casuistry noun the reasoning of a casuist;
the resolution of cases of conscience by the application of general rules to particular instances, frequently disclosing a conflict of duties;
Casuistry is a difficult topic to pin down, with various dictionaries giving vague, conflicting and perplexing definitions. However, historically, a casuist is a person that examines matters of conscience on a case-by-case basis rather than dogmatically adhering to an absolute moral truth. Therefore, if one accepts the axiom that lying is morally wrong, one might question if it's always, absolutely, without exception morally wrong. A casuistic approach to this question would be to examine each case individually - as a general principle, lying is morally wrong; under oath, in a court of law, lying is morally wrong; lying to a Gestapo agent, however, who is searching your house for the Jewish family hiding in the attic, might be morally acceptable considering that if you tell the truth it will almost definitely lead to their arrest and execution. Conversely, a moral absolutist who maintains the position that lying is wrong will do just that - he will maintain that position regardless of the details of the case.
All rather clear, right? Well it would be, except that casuistry has gained and lost favour through the centuries, so that its meaning has similarly altered. Whenever it's used now, it is almost invariably pejorative, describing clever, tricky, high-sounding but ultimately specious arguments (my favourite definition, and by far the simplest, was by Cambridge Online Dictionaries, that defined casuistry as 'the use of clever arguments to trick people'). This fall from favour came in part from criticism that casuistry leads to overly flexible morality - "Sure, lying is wrong, but if I can think of a reason why it doesn't apply in my case, I can excuse it." No doubt the inventiveness, imagination and sheer gall of some casuists (defending lawyers and politicians spring to mind) have edged the meaning of casuistry away from purely a method of approaching ethical issues to one that describes a tricky, clever-sounding, excuse-laden tongue.
So ... lying ... is it always wrong?
Do you approach that question casuistically or absolutely?
Do feel free to state your case in the comment box below.