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2010/2011 Harold C. Schott Lecture, featuring Professor Tom Eisele

April 26, 2011 12:10pm
Room 114

The 2010/2011 Harold C. Schott Lecture


"Learning with Socrates"

2011 Schott Lecture

This lecture will be based on Professor Eisele's recent book, BITTER KNOWLEDGE: LEARNING SOCRATIC LESSONS OF DISILLUSION AND RENEWAL

About the Presentation
Education in American law schools has traditionally included the idea that law teachers use (and law students undergo) something called “the Socratic method” of teaching.  It turns out that in practice, however, the teaching styles vary widely in law schools, and many teachers (and students) seem to have only a vague idea as to what Socrates did in the dialogues that Plato famously wrote about his own revered teacher.  This lecture examines several aspects of Socrates’ teaching style as portrayed in some of those dialogues, thereby directing some much deserved attention to the traditional claim concerning how students are educated in American law schools.

Meet Professor Tom Eisele
A law professor and a philosopher (he earned his J.D. from Harvard and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Michigan), Professor Eisele brings to his scholarly work an abiding passion for law, philosophy, teaching, and learning.   Through the years, he has authored numerous law review articles and essays about philosophy, pedagogy, and the law, as well as the state of jurisprudence more generally.  (A partial list of publications appears below). 
Of special note is the book that Professor Eisele brought to press during the 2009-2010 academic year: BITTER KNOWLEDGE: LEARNING SOCRATIC LESSONS OF DISILLUSION AND RENEWAL (2009).  The product of more than a decade of hard thinking, re-thinking, and writing about Socratic dialogue and its role in American jurisprudence and legal education, BITTER KNOWLEDGE challenges dominant notions of Socrates’ teachings as inconclusive and “negative … (showing us what we do not know, but not what we do know).”  In BITTER KNOWLEDGE, Professor Eisele persuasively demonstrates through his detailed readings of Socrates’ teaching methods in three Platonic dialogues (Protagoras, Meno, and Theaetetus) that Socratic disillusionment is designed to lead those in dialogue to renewal, and back again, forming a never-ending cycle of inquiry and conversation.

It is an impressive accomplishment that has garnered high praise from preeminent legal philosophers and scholars. 

James Boyd White of the University of Michigan Law School has written of BITTER KNOWLEDGE:  

This book is original, fresh, and of very high quality, opening up these Platonic texts, central to Western culture, in new ways. …  It would be a wonderful text to assign in courses in philosophy, basic humanities, education, and law.

Thomas Morawetz (University of Connecticut School of Law) has written:
Eisele’s book is much more than an erudite, seductive, and imaginative exploration of three central Platonic dialogues.  It is also a fine general treatment of philosophy, discussing the kind of finality or closure to which philosophical questions are susceptible and the appropriate stance of the inquirer.  It considers the pedagogy of philosophy and law brilliantly.

Professor Eisele’s dedication to and love of teaching, as well as his deep respect for his students, are revealed, often quite poignantly, throughout his scholarly inquiry.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read BITTER KNOWLEDGE that he is deeply revered here at the College as one of our very best teachers.  As this Harold C. Schott Scholarship Award signifies, Professor Eisele is one of our most noteworthy scholars as well.