Dec 8, 2009

LD mailbag: for the autodidact

Over the last few seasons, I've gotten more and more emails like this one:
I am a novice LD debater and a big fan of your blog. I would firstly like to thank you for your help in constructing cases. I find myself in an awkward situation primarily because I have little background in philosophy. I am eager to read up on some of those who are mentioned frequently and am wondering what books you might suggest to you who is unaccustomed to reading things of a more intellectual nature. All I know of Kant, Mills and others is from the SEP.
A while back, I compiled a list of some of the "frequent fliers" of LD philosophy. Where can you find accessible, useful information on them? I'd suggest checking out an encyclopedia of philosophy from your high school or local public library, and reading entries about those philosophers. (You might even be able to find an encyclopedia of morality or ethics, which would cut right to the chase.)

I'd also recommend Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel as a great introduction to its subject. Although the theories explored are timeless, Sandel uses each as a lens to examine contemporary social or political problems. The book is targeted at interested laypersons, which makes it quite useful for beginning LD debaters looking for an explanation beyond "the greatest good for the greatest number."

Another great series is the Very Short Introduction set from Oxford: pocket-sized intros to all sorts of interesting topics, many of them philosophical.

Of course, secondary sources are to primary sources as fruit juice is to fruit: you have to go to the source if you really want nourishment. Your readings through the encyclopedias and introductions should give a sense of the books that are critical, like On Liberty or A Theory of Justice, which can be found in your local library or online.

Online databases are perfect for research on specific topics. Journals of law, ethics, international relations, and human rights are all available, usually for free through your school or public library.

How about you? If you're an LD autodidact, how have you earned your stripes in philosophy?

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