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The Casuistry Of Duelling
by [?]

[Footnote 1: This appeared in Tait’s Magazine for February, 1841. Although practically an independent paper, it was included in the series entitled ‘Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater.’ The reference to Allan Cunningham occurs in the previous chapter of these ‘Sketches.’–H. ]

Here, then, are objections sound and deep, to casuistry, as managed in the Romish church. Every possible objection ever made to auricular confession applies with equal strength to casuistry; and some objections, besides these, are peculiar to itself. And yet, after all, these are but objections to casuistry as treated by a particular church. Casuistry in itself–casuistry as a possible, as a most useful, and a most interesting speculation–remains unaffected by any one of these objections; for none applies to the essence of the case, but only to its accidents, or separable adjuncts. Neither is this any curious or subtle observation of little practical value. The fact is as far otherwise as can be imagined–the defect to which I am here pointing, is one of the most clamorous importance. Of what value, let me ask, is Paley’s Moral Philosophy? What is its imagined use? Is it that in substance it reveals any new duties, or banishes as false any old ones? No; but because the known and admitted duties–duties recognised in every system of ethics–are here placed (successfully or not) upon new foundations, or brought into relation with new principles not previously perceived to be in any relation whatever. This, in fact, is the very meaning of a theory[2] or contemplation, [[Greek: Theoria],] when A, B, C, old and undisputed facts have their relations to each other developed. It is not, therefore, for any practical benefit in action, so much as for the satisfaction of the understanding, when reflecting on a man’s own actions, the wish to see what his conscience or his heart prompts reconciled to general laws of thinking–this is the particular service performed by Paley’s Moral Philosophy. It does not so much profess to tell what you are to do, as the why and the wherefore; and, in particular, to show how one rule of action may be reconciled to some other rule of equal authority, but which, apparently, is in hostility to the first. Such, then, is the utmost and highest aim of the Paleyian or the Ciceronian ethics, as they exist. Meantime, the grievous defect to which I have adverted above–a defect equally found in all systems of morality, from the Nichomachean ethics of Aristotle downwards–is the want of a casuistry, by way of supplement to the main system, and governed by the spirit of the very same laws, which the writer has previously employed in the main body of his work. And the immense superiority of this supplementary section, to the main body of the systems, would appear in this, that the latter I have just been saying, aspires only to guide the reflecting judgment in harmonising the different parts of his own conduct, so as to bring them under the same law; whereas the casuistical section, in the supplement, would seriously undertake to guide the conduct, in many doubtful cases, of action–cases which are so regarded by all thinking persons. Take, for example, the case which so often arises between master and servant, and in so many varieties of form–a case which requires you to decide between some violation of your conscience, on the one hand, as to veracity, by saying something that is not strictly true, as well as by evading (and that is often done) all answer to inquiries which you are unable to meet satisfactorily–a violation of your conscience to this extent, and in this way; or, on the other hand, a still more painful violation of your conscience in consigning deliberately some young woman–faulty, no doubt, and erring, but yet likely to derive a lesson from her own errors, and the risk to which they have exposed her–consigning her, I say, to ruin, by refusing her a character, and thus shutting the door upon all the paths by which she might retrace her steps. This I state as one amongst the many cases of conscience daily occurring in the common business of the world. It would surprise any reader to find how many they are; in fact, a very large volume might be easily collected of such cases as are of ordinary occurrence. Casuistry, the very word casuistry expresses the science which deals with such cases: for as a case, in the declension of a noun, means a falling away, or a deflection from the upright nominative (rectus), so a case in ethics implies some falling off, or deflection from the high road of catholic morality. Now, of all such cases, one, perhaps the most difficult to manage, the most intractable, whether for consistency of thinking as to the theory of morals, or for consistency of action as to the practice of morals, is the case of DUELLING.