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On Bullshit

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On Bullshit Book Cover Some time in spring, I read an article about the essay On Bullshit by Princeton Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt (enjoy the cover in many languages). While the essay has been originally written and published in the mid 1980s, it has been ‘re-released’ now and thus made it to the press once more.

It sounded both interesting and reasonably cool, so I ordered a copy – which I then ended up giving as a birthday present to a friend because it’s also a rather pretty little hardcover book. As luck had it there were a number of philosophers at the party who knew the essay as well, so this turned out to be a fun present. And I had to get myself another copy of course…

In the essay Frankfurter tries to shed some light on what people mean when they talk about ‘bullshit’. Starting from dictionary definitions he works his way towards common usage and illustrates things like the difference between ‘bullshitting’ and ‘lying’, for example. Saying things like:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless her 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 trues, and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off […] 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.

While all this may look like a joke – and certainly derives some of its charm from that fact – I quite enjoy the careful step-by-step analysis giving different views on the topic and going over them several times. While that seems repetitious at first, it does help achieving a better understanding of the topic.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Bookmark: 24-02-2005, flight KL 591 Amsterdam to Johannesburg, seat 22A.

September 5, 2006, 0:09

Tagged as book, bullshit, harry g frankfurt.

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