On Bullshit

Everyone’s seen the book at Borders by now. You look, you do a double take, and there it is.

On Bullshit. Here’s a review:

Frankfurt’s proposition is that, while the liar knows the truth and distorts it, the bullshitter is agnostic as far as the truth is concerned. It is carelessness, not mendacity, that characterises his stance. He is not, in short, bothered by the accuracy of his statements at all, but rather by the impression they create: that he is a knowledgeable and informed individual.

There is thus something about the bullshitter more cowardly than the liar: he cannot be pinged. Both liar and bullshitter present themselves falsely as truth-teller, but the liar at least knows and respects the truth, something his calling as liar renders unavoidable.

Of course, this article condemns not capitalism (in the form of advertising and big-business corporate phrasings) nor communism (arise all ye workers, blah blah blah), but philosophy as the art of bullshitting.

Art? Of what?!

A larger irony inhabits Frankfurt’s project. Although he never acknowledges it, he must surely be aware that many people regard philosophy itself as the art of bullshit. The closest he comes to such a recognition is in the suggestion that a certain kind of philosophy – broadly, what we would call postmodernism – has promoted bullshit’s cause by claiming the quest for accuracy itself may be a false lure, and only sincerity matters. I take it that Frankfurt’s fellow US philosopher Richard Rorty was suggesting something similar in his famous aside about Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction: “He’s given bullshit a bad name.”


Still, this review and the essay that produced it will give you something to think about, especially in today’s world where the fine line between lies and bullshit are blurred.

How’s that for a Monday morning start!

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