Brett Kavanaugh was educated by Catholic Jesuit priests. They may have taught young Brett how to practice moral casuistry, since the Jesuits were once known for such a thing.
Morality is not mere rulekeeping in the casuist view.
There are moral rules of thumb, yes. But any given circumstance can provide mitigating events that make moral rules moot.
‘Don’t steal’ is a good rule of thumb but it’s not a moral absolute when we can imagine permissible scenarios that would make stealing the right thing to do. ‘I needed to steal that car to get myself to a hospital emergency room.’
‘Don’t lie,’ unless a lie can forward a greater good. ‘Yes, Mrs. Trumpatore, your hat looks wonderful upon your head.’
‘Don’t murder’ would seem to be a moral rule without exception, except when we’d rather assassinate an evil foreign leader than capture him. ‘If I get him in my sights, I’ll squeeze a trigger.’
Casuistry is not all bad all the time, but more often than not casuistry is abused. (See the Jonsen and Toulmin book on the topic.)
It seems clear that Judge Kavanaugh, by self-profession a religious man, willfully lied under oath because he does not believe truth telling is a moral absolute and has found occasion to accept his own lies as morally permissible. To secure for himself a lifetime job and to forward a radical right worldview via the potency of the Supreme Court, he knew he must lie.
Let us hope Brett’s wife—thrust onto the world stage as the forlorn face sitting behind her husband at Senate hearings—has the more refined conscience in that family.
Mrs. Kavanaugh suspects her husband, like so many other religious casuists of his color and stripe nowadays, practices nothing other than a Higher Immorality.
Let’s hope Mrs. Kavanaugh’s conscience prevails and she persuades her husband to gracefully surrender his high-court ambitions, inviting dear Brett to retreat with her to ponder, and re-ponder, the eternal verities.
Featured image ‘Kavanaugh’ by Ninian Reid via Flickr