2 D. Marshall, ‘Socratic Method and the irreducible core of legal education’(2005) 90 (1)
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1.3 While Langdell was the inventor of the case method, the Socratic approachwas an earlier innovation of Dwight of Columbia. S. Sheppard, ‘Casebooks,commentaries and curmudgeons: an introductory history of law in the lecture hall’(1997) 82
Iowa L. Rev.
547, 585; R. Alford, ‘How do you trim the seamless Web?Considering the unintended consequences of pedagogical alterations’ (2009) 77
1273 at 1274.
As recounted by Plato, the dialogs of Socrates have a fixed form,structure, and purpose. All related to a distinctive theory of knowledge, a theory which may sound strange to modern ears.Asto form, Socrates asked a series of related questions and thestudent answered them. Each question was responsive to thestudent answer to the preceding question. Most noteworthy, forpresent purposes, was Socrates’ invariant adherence to questions;he rarely made a declarative statement.As to structure,the typicalSocratic dialog had four stages. In the first, Socrates askedquestions until a student answer contained an assertion whichSocrates deemed a misconception. In the second, Socrates askeda series of questions designed to lead the student step by steptoward realization that his statement was erroneous and why.Thethird stage was the discovery and acknowledgment by the studentthat his statement was misconceived.In the fourth,Socrates askeda final series of questions which helped the student discover therelevant valid assertion. As to purpose, Socrates’ dialogs were aform of moral education, the purpose being to discover ethicaltruth and thereby induce virtuous behavior. (One of Socrates’questionable substantive beliefs was that if men know virtue, theywill act virtuously.) Since Socrates’ goal was moral education, hisdialogs always dealt with the validity of large propositions. As tohis epistemology, Socrates believed a person’s soul contains allethical knowledge.Teaching ethical truths is, therefore, simply amatter of finding the questions that were keys to unlock the souland allow the student to discover knowledge he always possessed.
Langdell used the ‘Socratic case method’ at Harvard Law School toproduce a fundamental transformation in United States legaleducation.
However, though Langdellian method had the keyelement of question and answer, Marshall suggests that it had agreater similarity to Protagoras, who unlike Socrates, did not rely226