On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

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One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory."

Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.


About Harry G. Frankfurt

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Harry G. Frankfurt is a professor of philosophy emeritus at Princeton University. His books include "The Reasons of Love"; "Necessity, Volition, and Love"; and "The Importance of What We Care About," He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Published January 10, 2009 by Princeton University Press. 81 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for On Bullshit

BC Books

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Respected moral philosopher on The Daily Show to talk about bullshit.

Mar 07 2005 | Read Full Review of On Bullshit

BC Books

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This is such a tiny little book, so tiny it's almost a bound pamphlet. But it's jam-packed with bullshit.

Oct 15 2005 | Read Full Review of On Bullshit

Daily Kos

Yeah I realize racism is everywhere - it's just that in other parts of the country they seem to think the dark-skinned people should go away ("back South" or "back to Africa" - same difference as long as they're somewhere, anywhere else).

Jul 22 2011 | Read Full Review of On Bullshit

News Review.

What does it take for a Princeton professor of philosophy to hit the New York Times’ best-seller lists and score an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart?

Sep 08 2005 | Read Full Review of On Bullshit

Psych Central

Many people pride themselves on being good BSers, the type that can carry on a conversation with anyone or wow people with their smarts.

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