chapter  4
Reflection: philosophy in legal education – promises and perils
Pages 21

Introduction Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the foregoing chapters were first published, much work has been done on the role of philosophy, philosophical methods, and philosophical theory in legal education. Lawyers, teachers of law and philosophers have teased out the details of many aspects of philosophy’s role, highlighting the benefits it can bring to a well-rounded legal education, while also alerting us to potential pitfalls. Most contributions tend to focus on a handful of specific advantages or concerns. This chapter synthesizes this work, aiming to more comprehensively recount the many different ways philosophy can impact upon legal education for good or ill. More importantly, this chapter develops some of the themes in the previous two chapters that have still not been fully incorporated into the latest thinking. In particular, the chapter highlights the question of the substantive convictions that students may (or may not) come to hold as a result of their philosophical learning. In many subjects, it is a routine question to ask ‘What do we want students to come out of this course believing and what skills and knowledges do we want students to acquire?’ Yet, in reflections on philosophy, this question can fall to the background.1 There are good reasons why this might occur; in some respects, the most important advantages of doing philosophy lie in learning its skills and methods (such as critical thinking) rather than the substantive theoretical beliefs the student acquires. Indeed, it is through those skills that they can choose the beliefs they will hold. An additional factor for resisting the focus on what beliefs the students should acquire is that teachers might be wary of indoctrinating students into specific theoretical beliefs, as this will stunt the student’s own critical capacities. Yet, not all substantive outcomes are equal. Legal education aims to provide certain benefits and qualities – in particular, those that will make for competent, principled, professional lawyers and legal practitioners.2 The substantive convictions that a student comes to possess, and the way those convictions are held, impact upon these outcomes. The more that the student’s legal education comes to facilitate convictions and understandings that drive their expertise and future professionalism, the more that university education is playing the role that students, professionals and the wider community demands of it.