The New Casuistry vs. Narrative Ethics: A Postmodern Analysis

By Mckinney, Ronald H. | Philosophy Today, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

The New Casuistry vs. Narrative Ethics: A Postmodern Analysis


Mckinney, Ronald H., Philosophy Today


The most interesting developments occurring in contemporary ethical theory can be found in the realm of post-Vatican II Catholic moral theology. The current debate in this arena between those whom I shall call the "new casuists" and "narrative ethicists" has a significance that goes far beyond the parochial confines of Catholic circles. And this should come as no surprise, since the very issues which have been most influential in this debate were first raised and developed by non-Catholic thinkers. However, it is currently within the Roman church where this debate has sparked the most heated controversy and received its most lucid articulation.

I first wish to examine in this essay some of the basic Aristotelian positions underlying both the New Casuistry and Narrative Ethics in an effort to see more clearly both the relevant similarities and differences between these ethical approaches. I shall finally adopt the postmodern framework of Derridean deconstruction as a means to understanding more adequately the dynamics of their fascinating relationship. Hopefully, both Catholic moral theology and ethical theory in general will be equally illuminated in the process.

Pre-Vatican II Moral Theology

The history of all Western ethical thought begins with Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.(l) For Aristotle, the aim of the moral life is the attainment of the moral virtues which are gained in the habitual exercise of them (II. 1). He defines virtue as "a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e., a mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine" (II.6). Aristotle gives us a crucial example of practical wisdom in action in his consideration of the central virtue of justice (V.10).

Here he argues that the law (e.g., an ethical principle) is necessarily defective because of its abstract universality, i.e., it cannot possibly anticipate every possible case which might arise in concrete human affairs. Therefore, the "over-simplicity" of the law needs to be compensated for by one with practical wisdom: "to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known." This is what is known as the attainment of "equity (epicheia)," a correction of strict legal justice.

Aristotle's view of such exceptional cases, however, differs radically from that of Plato. John Mahoney, S.J., makes the following comparison:

For Plato, the exception is a deviation and a deficiency, due to the imperfect way in which worldly reality embodies and represents the ideal, whereas for Aristotle the exception, far from weakening the law, actually improves and corrects it.(2)

Mahoney goes on to point out that this Aristotelian view of law and epicheia was introduced into Catholic philosophy and theology with the translation into Latin of the Nicomachean Ethics in 1245.(3) It thus became a pivotal component in the ethical thinking of Thomas Aquinas who proceeded to systematize the whole medieval case study method of doing ethics.

Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin have written a fascinating history of the rise and fall of casuist moral reasoning in the hopes of contributing to its rehabilitation and advancement in today's intellectual environment.(4) They define the casuist method in the following manner:

the analysis of moral issues, using procedures of reasoning based on paradigms and analogies, leading to the formulation of expert opinions about the existence and stringency of particular moral obligations, framed in terms of rules or maxims that are general but not universal or invariable, since they hold good with certainty only in the typical conditions of the agent and circumstances of action.(5)

They trace the development of this "analogical" method of reasoning from Aristotle's time, through its use by canonists and confessors in the Middle Ages, up to the zenith of its popular use by the early Jesuits. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The New Casuistry vs. Narrative Ethics: A Postmodern Analysis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.