Volume 38, Issue 3, Fall 2016
Debra J. Erickson
The Case for Casuistry in Environmental Ethics
Casuistry, or case-based reasoning, should be used in environmental ethics. Casuistry came to prominence during the transition from medieval to modern, when historical circumstances challenged settled moral perspectives. Similarly, environmental ethics arose in response to real-life dilemmas that also challenged existing moral theories. Casuistry’s focus on cases means that it can resolve individual environmental dilemmas without needing to solve every other problem (theoretical or practical) in the field. It is a “taxonomic” form of moral reasoning that operates by analogy to paradigm cases, appeals to authorities in the field, and application of moral rules of thumb. Analogy to just-war reasoning and medical ethics and appeal to ecological reasoning yields four basic principles for environmental casuistry, justice, prudence, diversity, and a presumption toward preservation, and provides guidance in selecting paradigms and sources of authority within the field of environmental ethics.