Preparing for the Socratic Method

The Socratic Method was first used in law schools at Harvard, starting the 19th c., and is now employed in most major law schools around the world.

Joseph Bartosch describes to purposes for using the Socratic method:

  • strict classical approach to eliminating false philosophical presuppositions by exposing logical errors in thinking
  • utilizing the simple question and answer method in order to cultivate critical thinking in a broad variety of areas

The approach is used to “developing higher order thinking, conflict-resolution skills, and conceptual applications.”

Kemp provides some tips on how to develop this critical thinking in our everyday life:


  1. Locate a statement confidently described as common sense.
  2. Imagine for a moment that, despite the confidence of the person proposing it, the statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where the statement would not be true.
  3. If an exception if found, the definition must be false or at least imprecise.
  4. The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
  5. If one subsequently finds exceptions to the improved statements, the process should be repeated. The truth, in so far as a human being is able to attain such a thing, lies in a statement which it seems impossible to disprove. It is by finding out what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
  6. The product of thought is, whatever Aristophanes insinuated, superior to the product of intuition. discusses the Soctratic Method using interviews and experiences of real students.

macleish.jpg (14766 bytes)

Archibald MacLeish spoke of his experience at Harvard Law,

The Socratic spark which set insatiable fires where no flame was seen before…

Beyond the spark was a vision – the vision of the human mind, the great tradition of intellectual past which knows the bearings of the future.

The Trial of the Socratic Method features students from Harvard Law

Of course, using cases to critically analyze and discuss concepts of law is probably the best preparation of all. Within weeks we intend to start posting cases and anticipate your contribution.

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Law is Cool
This site is intended to provide a resource for those interested in law. Current law students, graduates preparing for their bar exam, and members of the general public, can all benefit from a deeper understanding of the legal framework that helps shape our society.

5 Comments on "Preparing for the Socratic Method"

  1. Great post, I’ve heard a lot about the socratic method, but nothing indepth.

    Following Kemp’s tips, what would be an example that would fit in for “Locate a statement confidently described as common sense.” ?

  2. Just a note:

    I realize this is a “canadian” based law prep site. To that end, you should be aware that very few law profs use the Socratic Method in Canada. What you should be prepared for is a more discussion based class, maybe a bit more spoon feeding than Harvard, and the ability to actually hide behind your laptop. This means you can get away with not reading… until you write your final :D

    Queen’s Law ’08

  3. How about a confident statement that Canadian law schools use the Socratic method? ;)

    A bit of skepticism would have revealed, as David has, that it’s not as pronounced here as we would expect.

    Thanks for the input David – we have absolutely no way of knowing until we actually start, being first-years and all… This is exactly why we have the site, to gain this kind of feedback.

    That being said, I don’t think i would recommend anyone not doing the reading until the exam.

  4. This is really cool… Sometimes I can’t help but surrender to my jocular gravity Good joke :) How can you tell if a planet is married? It has a ring around it.

  5. Is this a test? The second sentence states, “Joseph Bartosch describes to purposes for using the Socratic method . . .” using the word “to” to indicate the number two (2). Is this a test of one’s observation skills or a typographical error?

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