Sessions Notes — Casuistry

[Excerpts from session notes of Dr. Barnaby Ebsen.]

“It’s the principle of thing.”

“What’s the principle?”

“What’s the—”

“Name it. This principle of the thing. A name gives it shape. Otherwise, it’s just this vague, amorphous badge of self-righteousness.”


“Otherwise, you’re just this guy who let the air out of the car tires of some poor soul with an accessible parking permit.”

“One tire.”

“And forced them to put the spare tire on on their own.”

“Exactly! How disabled could he be?”

[Note: Client XX exacerbated at being challenged, throws his hands up in the air… like he just does care]

“You’ve previously called the parking authorities about the eligibility of the permit, yes? You were assured that they would check it out. Evidently, they did becau—”

“How do I know? Nothing gets done in this city these days. I never heard back. They’re still using the permit, parking on the opposite of the road, blocking traffic, the snow plow. I watched a truck have to reverse back up the street after leaning on his horn for a few minutes because they couldn’t get past the car. And on the day of the night I let the air out of the tire, tire not tires, a fire truck with its siren blaring and lights flashing had to slow down to a crawl to get past the car. Valuable seconds wasted in what could’ve been a life-and-death scenario, yeah?

[Note: the inciting incident]

“Just so this jackoff can park wherever he wants whenever he wants?”

“And did you follow up with your initial complaint?”

“Come on, Barnaby. I’m not that kind of neighbour. I’ve got better things to do than be… some fucking Gladys Kravitz.”

[Note: unsure of this Gladys Kravitz reference but client XX has some sort of moment of self-awareness, I’d say, complete with heavy sigh and light eye-roll]

“OK so, when I’m coming back home later, a day or two later, the punk’s right there, bending over, changing the tire. I go up to him, all Mr. Sympathy, offer to change the tire for him since he’s got the disabled parking permit and probably shouldn’t be exerting himself like that, blah, blah, blah. The asshole stands up without so much as a creak or groan, just a young guy, I’d say in his 30s, maybe even late-20s, and he tells me, straight-faced, it’s not his car, it’s his aunt’s, and she lives down the street there a bit.”

“Ah. A twist.”

“Nah. Just bullshit. I’ve never seen an elderly or disabled woman anywhe—”

“Differently abled.”


“Do you have a problem with that label?”

“… not a problem, no. Just… I can’t keep up.”

[Note: Client XX has a problem with the language]

“I’ve only ever seen this kid drive the car. Ever. And it’s always parked right in front of our house, not down the street a bit, by his ‘aunt’s’ ? So, I say to him, That’s nice that you live so close and can be around to help your aunt when she needs it. He looks at me like he has no idea what I’m talking about. You’re right there in one of those flats, right? I point to the house right next to mine, a big brick pile with eight or ten units in it. He looks over at the place and tells me he doesn’t live there. Utter bullshit. I’ve seen him come and go countless times, even said hi to him when our paths cross. Why didn’t he just say that’s where his aunt lives, you know? Instead of down the street somewhere?”

“With what percentage of certainty do you feel that he was lying to you? Absolutely certain? Pretty sure? 50-50?”

“I don’t know, Barnaby, fuck! Is there a magic number in this circumstance that tips it one way or the other?”

“There is. Are you familiar with the concept of casuistry?”

“…. ummmm…”

[Note: that would be a ‘no’]

“Is that like a clown orchestra?”

“A what?”

“You know, a bunch of clowns with kazoos? Nevermind. A joke. I don’t have the faintest idea what that word is you just said.”

“It’s a concept of reasoning and a model of ethical or moral behaviour that’s had something of checkered history.”

“It would have to, wouldn’t it, what with that name. What was it again?”


“See? Doesn’t even sound like a real word.”

“Plato believed it to be nonsense. He was more of the ‘moral geometry’ type. To him casuistry was pure sophistry, yeah? You know that word?”

[Note: Client XX doesn’t]

“A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument. Fallacious? You kno—”

“HaHa. What does thi—”

“Or, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Casuistry destroys by distinctions and exceptions all morality, and effaces the essential difference between right and wrong’. Aristotle, on the other hand accepted casuistry as, as someone wrote, ‘part of the human fabric’. Practical wisdom, phronesis. Don’t bother. Cicero, living in increasingly law by imperial fiat Rome, wrote the book on the tension between one’s duty—”

“HeeHee. You said ‘duty’.”

“—and this phronesis of Aristotle’s.”

“Is there going to be a test on—”

“A book that greatly influenced later thinkers including Irish monks who composed the penitentials, a veritable compendium of casuistry, weighing the degree of sin against penance owed. Compare, contrast and conclude. The Jesuits relied heavily on casuistic thinking to live and thrive in an increasingly secular world which drew the ire of one Blaise Pascal, a monumental practitioner of casuistry himself with his wager. You know it?”

“You know that I don’t have the slightes—”

“A belief in God predicated on the mere possibility of His existence. If He does exist, heaven will be yours. If He doesn’t, well, you lived a good, happy life believing He did exist. So what do you have to lose? Compare, contrast and conclude.”

“I’m sorry, Barnaby. What does all this have to do with me letting the air out of some asshole’s tire?”

[Note: anything?]

“You decided, in all probability, that this person was abusing his accessibility parking permit—”

“No doubt. And is that what it’s call—”

“No doubt?”

“Whatever the number is that’s greater than zero but negligible enough to render it a no doubter. How about that?”

“Fine. And judging the proper authorities derelict or maybe even complicit in this abuse of an accessi—”

“Complicit? I hadn’t gone there. I like it.”

“You decided to take matters into your own hands in order to… ?”

“… I’m sorry. You’re asking or telling me?”

“Asking you. Taking us back to the principle behind your action. If there’s no principle at work, then we’d be dealing more with the idea of situational ethics which leaves us talking about anarchical impulses and that’s alright if this is what you think it is.”

“Barnaby. You’re overthinking this. You want principle? Here’s your principle. The guy wants to game the system, avoid paying for a proper parking permit? Have at it. That’s between him and the authorities. Not my concern. Just don’t be so fucking obvious about it, OK? My principle, right? Don’t so flagrantly flout it. Park on the right side of the street with everybody else. Don’t inconvenience other people by clogging up the street. That’s just being an asshole. It’s not like I smashed in his windshield or anything. Hammered off his sideview mirror. A little tit-for-tat, is all. An inconvenience for an inconvenience. How’s that for principle?”

“Compare, contrast and conclude. Casuistry in action.”

“Yeah, well. It just seems like a long way about it, if you’re asking my opinion. More for your benefit than mine.”

“An inner destination is better arrived at by the rigorous journey rather than the easy path, yes?”

“Feels a little like you were filling time, running out the clock. I mean, come on, Barnaby. Casusistry? I’m still not convinced it’s even a thing.”

[Note: Client XX may not be entirely wrong in his assessment]

“Like I just endured a philosophical lecture or something. That’s what I’m paying for now? I should audit a university course.”


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