Doug Coulson
Associate 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 it has frequently been associated with case-specific, practical, and situated thought and communication. As a result, the study of judicial discourse is particularly useful as a resource for exploring a variety of conceptual issues involving rhetoric, and vice versa. Trial transcripts are among the best artifacts of formal debate that we have, particularly given the variety of participants and discourse that they reflect. The study of judicial discourse therefore offers a valuable opportunity to study the ways in which people seek to persuade one another in situated ways. 

My research focuses on legal rhetoric and writing, argumentation, and rhetorical history and theory. More broadly, I’m interested in the role of narrative, memory, and proof in discourse about past events and in the comparative study of conflict 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 Courses page outlines recent and current courses.

Please feel free to contact me at or follow me on Twitter.

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