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 thought and communication. As a result, the study of judicial discourse is useful as a resource for exploring a variety of conceptual issues involving rhetoric. Trial transcripts are among the best artifacts of formal debate that still exist in our society, particularly given the variety of participants and discourse that they reflect, providing a wealth of data for the study of rhetoric. The study of judicial discourse offers a valuable opportunity to study the ways in which people seek to persuade one another in situated ways, focusing as it does on the complexities of applying general rules or principles to particular cases. It also offers a valuable record of advocacy practices.  

My research focuses on legal rhetoric and argumentation, particularly the relationship of legal discourse to cultural identity. 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 Courses page outlines my recent and current courses.

Please feel free to contact me at or follow me on Twitter or on my blog Nostrum Remedium.

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