Definition: Casuistry


Casuistry is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances. This method occurs in applied ethics and jurisprudence.

To put this in plain language, it’s the process of reasoning where, in a new case of a variation on something not like seen before, you take two different variations and see which one is more like, rather than rely on principles to decide, because principles were built on the past cases, whereas you have a new case on your hands.

The example given in the first of three Revisionist History podcasts by Malcolm Gladwell below, talks about using drugs to rehab from injury in baseball via the Andy Pettitte case, and whether that constituted cheating. He was caught using human growth hormone (HGH) to heal faster, to get off the Disabled List and back on the playing field sooner, but did not use it while pitching (so far as we know), and did not become a different player with better or worse stats after a bad injury, like other drug cheats we generally know of who take it to improve performance. So was Andy Pettitte “cheating” or should it be called “cheating” in the same way as, say, Barry Bonds and the steroid pumped baseball players of the steroids era? Well, consider two rather different cases of unnatural means to improve oneself in sports, where one is widely considered “cheating”, and one is not, and see whether the Andy Pettitte case falls closer to one to decide how to judge his case, rather than just rely on principles that all drug use are the same and constitutes “cheating”, despite other unnatural means of physical improvement not being so. Chosen cases were those of pitcher Tommy John and hitter Barry Bonds.

Tommy John was a pitcher who had a radical surgery (in his time) to repair his elbow that would otherwise have ended his career. He relied on an unnatural mean to heal through surgery, and played again… until the age of 46, no less! It wasn’t drugs, but the surgery that now bears his name had a more profound impact than what HGH did for Andy Pettitte to get him back a few weeks sooner, though it did not really improve Tommy Johns’ stats, either. Tommy John is not considered a cheater for his surgery.

Barry Bonds, on the other hand, used steroids as the unnatural mean to improve himself. However, he became a different player, physically, strategically, and statistically. His older body was much bigger than his younger one. He became a pure power hitter rather than one who relied on speed and some power. He had ridiculously better stats in his older years, after he started taking steroids, when it would have been very challenging just to get better numbers, never mind numbers twice as better in some categories like home runs. Barry Bonds is considered a cheater for his steroid use.

So, where does the Andy Pettitte case fit between these two? Well, casuistry doesn’t define that for you. It’s just a process, but a process to help you get a more informed answer than one where you might have simply used principles and said drug use of any kind is “cheating”, though at what drug would you draw the line since medication to heal are drugs?

To get this in more detail, listen to the first podcast below. Then listen to two other cases where casuistry is applied. The conclusions may not agree with yours, but if you use it, you’ll make more informed decisions… and you can thank the Jesuits for it from hundreds of years back!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.