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On Bullshit

by Harry G. Frankfurt

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2,715594,034 (3.35)31
Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it, yet 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 conscientious 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, he argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims. 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 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.… (more)
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English (57)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
A beautiful little book I read semi-regularly to remind myself how much I love philosophy.

This is a book that endeavours to understand the concept of bullshit without emitting any in itself. In a different context it could have been a top-tier Medium post given its brevity and clarity.

The book does something very simple: It attempts to distinguish the difference between bullshit and lying, given that both things are utterances that are untrue. The conclusion is ultimately that a falsehood is something the speaker knows to be true, whereas the bullshitter doesn't care at all whether the statement is true or false, it is being said for reasons thta are completely orthogonal to whether the thing is true or not (to be pretentious, or to simply be a voice in the room, for example.)

The book begins questioning, although it doesn't come to any grand conclusion, whether a person who _doesn't care_ about the truth/falsity of their statement is morally worse than someone who is very concerned with misleading the listenever away from a truth. The latter at least is concerned with the truthness of a thing even if they have a different agenda.
The book also starts to but doesn't really go into why our society is so tolerant of bullshit, which is somewhat of a bitter read now that we've allowed people to take ultimate power in politics who everyone, _everyone_, knew were only performers and had no interest in all about the truths and falsenesses of running a government.

In that way this book is stilll deeply relevant, even moreso now than it was when it was written. It is unfortunate the author decided to leave certain areas unexplored; the author clearly has the authorship skill to do it justice even if the book would have become larger and not the accessible handbook that it is right now. ( )
  NaleagDeco | Dec 13, 2020 |
A narrow topic but expertly done and succinct to boot. ( )
  TegarSault | Jul 16, 2020 |
Curioso, este librito. Se trata de una disección moral y teleológica del bullshit, un término que no consigo delimitar perfectamente en castellano. El autor disecciona las causas y las principales características del bullshitter, que no debe ser confundido con un mentiroso, por un buen número de motivos que el autor quirúrgicamente analiza en el libro. Es un opúsculo realmente atractivo. Un tema tan banal da para bastante disquisición y muchas citas de los clásicos. Sorprendentemente entretenido. ( )
  Remocpi | Apr 22, 2020 |
I read an article about Donald Trump that referenced this great little book, and had to read it. It is quite funny, but has a thoughtful message at its core - how can someone spout out a lot of nonsense and then say that they are being honest? Because they're not lying - they are bullshitting, and there is a difference. A liar contradicts the truth - a bullshitter simply ignores it, and says whatever they think will convey the impression they want to give.

A great book to read during election season! ( )
1 vote JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
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To Joan, truly
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One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.
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Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it, yet 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 conscientious 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, he argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims. 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 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.

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