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On Bullshit

by Harry G. Frankfurt

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3,067674,365 (3.36)32
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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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
A timeless and timely little book to be read and reread.
  Mark_Feltskog | Dec 23, 2023 |
The author recently died and I was reminded of this book. I decided to read it in preparation for the oncoming deluge. This essay is short, but as a book, it is very short. It is so short that its Wikipedia summary seems as comprehensive as the book itself.
The author's insights and analysis seemed valuable, but if I were the publisher I would consider a version that included essays by his critics, Mark Twain's "On the Decay of the Art of Lying", and perhaps Max Black's "The Prevalence of Humbug" (referenced by Frankfurt). ( )
  markm2315 | Sep 9, 2023 |
Traversing the meaning of bullshit from its dictionary definition to philosophical analyzation, On Bullshit runs the gamut to explain why there is so much of it in today's world. This is not some sarcastic tome, it is a serious discussion on the term bullshit. No really. Seriously! ( )
  Chanicole | Jul 6, 2023 |
Been meaning to review this little free library find. Areg and I were hoping for a quick, funny read on a long drive...instead, this is a dense, academic, dry-as-the-desert essay that made no effort to meat lay readers halfway and did not lend itself to reading aloud. I had a little bit of a sneaking suspicion that the joke is on the reader--is this essay, perhaps, itself just bullshit? I can't be bothered to find out. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Sep 15, 2022 |
Actually never thought too much about the word. Really well put together and thought provoking. Kind of want to find Frankfurt's anti-thesis "On Truth" now and read it. ( )
  BookLeafs | May 26, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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