Academic Learning in Law

Academic Learning in Law

Theoretical Positions, Teaching Experiments and Learning Experiences

Edited by Bart van Klink and Ubaldus de Vries

This timely book calls for a critical re-evaluation of university legal education, with the particular aim of strengthening its academic nature. It emphasizes lecturers’ responsibility to challenge the assumptions students have about law, and the importance of putting law in a theoretical and social context that allows for critical reflection and sceptical detachment. In addition, the book reports upon teaching experiences and innovations, offering tools for teachers to strengthen the academic nature of legal education.

Chapter 2: Knowledge and aphasia: what is the use of skeptical legal education?

Bart van Klink

Subjects: law - academic, legal philosophy, legal theory, research methods in law, research methods, research methods in law


If one were to ask law teachers at the university what distinguishes academic legal education from professional and vocational training, they probably will refer to the capacity of critical thinking. As academics, we are not satisfied that students are able to reproduce faithfully what they have learnt but we want them to develop a critical attitude towards the things we have told them and the texts we have given them to read. However, what exactly does it mean to be critical and why is it important to be critical? How can a critical attitude be promoted and developed? At the core of our modern self-understanding lies the notion of critique. Kant defined Enlightenment famously as ‘man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’ or, more properly, ‘speechlessness’ (Unmündigkeit). In the Critiques that Kant developed he sought to liberate thinking by means of reason from the idées recues handed down by tradition. In contemporary legal theory, the notion of critical thinking seems to be annexed by the critical legal studies (CLS) movement. By wearing the banner of ‘critical’, ‘crits’ such as Duncan Kennedy, Allan Hunt and Peter Goodrich, suggest that they have acquired the monopoly of being critical; other, mainstream liberal or conservative approaches have to be dismissed as hopelessly uncritical. ‘Critical’ in this understanding is connected to a left-wing political agenda that aims at exposing and subverting existing power structures in society.

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