CASUISTRY.—(1) Disputation as to conflicting duties, that is, duties which seem
to demand attention at the same time, yet cannot be fulfilled simultaneously. In
the best sense, Casuistry is a system of the rational grounds for adjustment of
such conflict. It does not imply dispute as to right and wrong; it presupposes
the absence of such dispute; (2) in an evil sense, equivalent to sophistry, wilful concealment of truth under the subtleties of dialectic.
A department of ethics "the great object of which is to lay down rules or
canons for directing us how to act wherever there is any room for doubt or
hesitation" (Stewart, Active Powers, bk. IV. ch. V. sec. 4). The science of
cases, or of those special varieties which are for ever changing the face of
actions as contemplated by general rules (De Quincey, On Casuistry).
To casuistry, as ethical, belongs the decision of what are called cases of
conscience—that is, cases in which from special circumstances the existence of
obligation, or the degree of it, is involved in doubt.