And now for something completely different – On Bullshit

by Bruce

While wandering through Chapters bookstore in Toronto, I came across a little book by Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritis professor of philosophy at Stanford University. It’s simply called “On Bullshit,”  Here is a video interview with professor Frankfurt posted on the Princeton University Press website:

Apparently, Professor Frankfurt’s book has become somewhat of a cult classic; reviews praising the book are scattered throughout the web. In my mind, the praise is well deserved – how often do you see someone in academia, which is immersed in bullshit, standing up to expose it? Although he drags on in parts and does a bit too much hairsplitting as to just what constitutes bullshit (or humbug) he makes the point that our society is swimming in bullshit.

In this era of rampant political lying, Frankfurt makes the distinction between lying and bullshit:

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

According to this definition, I would claim that most politicians bullshit artists than outright liars. But in the end, the result is the same. You’ve been deceived! Time to grow a good pair of bullshit antennae.

Frankfurst’s great little book can be found here.