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Library Catalog No. JMT2001

Article on “Casuistry.” Pp. 83–88 of the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. by Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

by James M. Tallmon

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First Issued:  19 February 2006
Reissued:  21 August 2012
Revised (substantive):  n/a

Part I: Editor’s Introduction to Tallmon’s encyclopedia article on casuistry

decorative initial I (e-copyright 2014)HAVE made Jim Tallmon’s excellent article on casuistry (the ancient art of case reasoning) available in HTML format as part of She-philosopher.com’s growing collection of materials on phronesis.

Tallmon closes his encyclopedia article with an interesting discussion of the central role of phronesis in casuistry and rhetorical reason:

Phronesis has not traditionally been associated as directly with rhetoric as the concepts of stasis and topics, but, as the above sketch underscores, its role in rhetorical reasoning is ubiquitous indeed. Understood with precision, rhetorical reasoning guides and phronesis drives moral inquiry. The aim of moral inquiry is to render sound judgment, but judgment in hard cases is frustrated because the crux of the matter is hedged in by a potentially limitless parade of particulars. Rhetorical reason manages particulars by systematically determining the relevance of issues and identifying the stasis, or the most relevant of the relevant issues. Now ascribing relevance, per se, is an act of phronesis.
     Phronesis drives practical judgment in at least five distinct, discernible, and nuanced ways: (1) by bringing to bear ethical principles where appropriate; (2) by bringing to bear past experience on present situations; (3) by generalizing from analogous cases to present ones; (4) by working in tandem with special topics to guide inquiry by determining which issues are most relevant; and (5) by combining all four aspects above to bring together probabilities in their convergence in order to facilitate praxis.

Tallmon’s own nuanced understanding of phronesis stresses its ethical imperative (“phronesis drives moral inquiry”) and its ancient equation with consilium (“good judgment,” “good counsel”). Both are prominent themes in its traditional iconography, where phronesis was often symbolized by a chain with a heart for a pendant (indicating the divine origins of the phronimos’s wisdom of the heart).

Tallmon’s case studies are all drawn from clinical medicine, where training in the Aristotelian arts of rhetorical reasoning and dialectical inquiry is enjoying something of a renaissance.

But a revitalized phronesis-based art of rhetoric would benefit any discipline with what Tallmon calls a “habit of moral reasoning.”

Indeed, the need for a reliable “guide to judgment in the practical arena” goes well beyond the professions, and extends to just about any human endeavor where we are required to make and act on decisions, exercise good judgment, or give and receive wise counsel.

Tail-piece from William Cuningham's _The Cosmographical Glasse_ (London, 1559)

NOTE: The digital edition of Tallmon’s text (in Part II) has not yet been updated. It retains the original format and styling of an earlier reissue of the HTML monograph in September 2009. To learn more about 2012 changes to e-publication formats, visit She-philosopher.com’s “A Note on Site Design” page.

Part II: digital edn. of Library Cat. No. JMT2001 pointer

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