Doug Coulson
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University

A casuist was viewed ... as a kind of lawyer or special pleader in morals, such as those who, in London, are known as Old Bailey practitioners, called in to manage desperate cases—to suggest all available advantages—to raise doubts or distinctions where simple morality saw no room for either—and generally to teach the art, in nautical phrase, of sailing as near the wind as possible, without fear of absolutely foundering.

Thomas De Quincey, Casuistry (1839)

Rhetoric is notoriously difficult to define but Aristotle famously claimed that it is the faculty of discovering the available means of persuasion ”in any particular case,” and rhetoric has frequently been associated with case-specific, practical, and situated communication. For this reason, the study of adjudicatory discourse is useful both as as a resource for exploring a variety of conceptual issues involving rhetoric as well as for studying legal and normative discourse. In fact, trial transcripts are some of the best artifacts of formal debate that still exist in our society, particularly given the breadth of discourse that they reflect, and they provide a wealth of data for the study of rhetoric. In this way, the study of adjudicatory discourse offers a valuable opportunity to study the ways in which people seek to persuade one another generally, focusing as it does on the complexities of applying general rules or principles to particular cases.   

My research focuses on legal rhetoric and argumentation, particularly the relationship of legal discourse to cultural identity in global contexts. More broadly, I’m interested in the history and theory of rhetoric, the role of narrative, memory, and proof in discourse about the past, and the comparative study of conflict and its resolution. You can read more about my research interests on the Research and Publications and Talks pages. You can also visit my faculty page at Carnegie Mellon University here. The Legal Rhetoric, Rhetoric and the Nation, and Argument pages outline courses I’ve taught at Carnegie Mellon University, and the Trials and Controversies page outlines a freshman seminar I’m scheduled to teach at Carnegie Mellon University in Spring 2015.

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