Read On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt Online


A #1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLEROne of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate cA #1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLEROne of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. 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 conscientiously developed 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, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.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 their end of 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....

Title : On Bullshit
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780691122946
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 67 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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On Bullshit Reviews

  • BillKerwin
    2019-05-23 08:22

    I found this tiny book both illuminating and useful when I first read it in 2005. Now, amidst the tweet storms of President Trump, I find it central to understanding the devolution of our political discourse.Frankfurt demonstrates, through argument and example, the difference between lying and bullshit: the liar knows what is true (or else he would not be lying), whereas the bullshitter cares nothing about truth or lies. The bullshitter really does not give a damn.I find this distinction useful now when dealing with political bloviating or religious propaganda. I used to look at each jeremiad as a fabric of lies, isolating each untruthful or illogical thread, refuting and dismantling it bit by bit. This of course took up much of my time which would be better spent writing Goodreads reviews or working on my novel.But now, since reading Harry G. Frankfurt, I just recognize the thing for the pile of bullshit it is, sweep it up, and dump it in the trash. (Why the trash? Unlike other forms of shit, this shit does not make good fertilizer.)

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2019-06-10 01:31

    At the request of someone here on GR (forgive me but I cannot remember who, I am sure you'll let me know in the comments though), I read this short masterpiece On Bullshit and thoroughly enjoyed it. As others on GR have remarked, we have entered into a political era in the US of pure, unadulterated bullshit with the election of Drumpf and so it is quite the timely read. Mr. Frankfurt starts by looking at dictionary definitions of "humbug" and "bull session" and compares them to the concept of bullshit: the line to be drawn semantically between lying and bullshitting is quite a convoluted one as it turns out. He has one animated story about a certain Pascal who is castigated by a certain Wittgenstein for using the phrase "I feel like a dog that got run over" as an example where W calls her out on bullshit. I thought that line was a bit thin and that expressions such as this are purely allegorical and do not really fall into the bullshit category and that Wittgenstein was annoying splitting hairs over it. The author also quotes the amazing Ezra Pound, where the poet does not want to be bullshitted. (I laughed out loud at that one.) But most importantly, just before the conclusion of this short 65-page essay, he makes a valid point that bullshitting is a greater enemy to the truth than lies - precisely because it is manipulative and never benevolent. Putting that in the perspective of the nightly flood of excrement on CNN and Fox seems very apt to me. The essay ends with a facetious but humorous point about all sincerity being bullshit. OK, that may be true, it does not undermine he previous points. So, take a shot at this little marvel and see where you stand On Bullshit!Thanks for all the comments and Likes! Who'd've thought that Bullshit could be so popular? Oh, I forgot about my CNN/Fox comment, of COURSE it is! :)In case you missed it, Frankfurt published an article on Drumpf and bullshit in May 2016 in Time Magazine: here

  • Petra X
    2019-06-16 06:15

    The title is no irony, it's what it says it is. BS. It's one long mental wank lecture by a college professor of the word and its meanings in every possible boring, mildly-interesting, wow, I didn't know that, kind of way. It's intellectual humour done not to amuse an audience as its first aim but because the professor is amusing himself that he can do this sort of thing, and well.All this sounds like I didn't enjoy it, but you know when it comes to stars I'm wavering between 1.5 and a 4.5, I can't decide. You can read the paragraph above in a slightly negative tone of voice and then it also reads in an ironic kind of way that I kind of admire the professor and had also quite enjoyed both his work and why he did it. I just can't decide so three stars it is.

  • Nandakishore Varma
    2019-05-19 03:32

    During my youth, the consulting company I worked for sent me as an "expert" to a chemical plant - a process about which I had only the vaguest idea.The job was generic and relatively straightforward, and did not require any special expertise: I concluded my two week visit successfully. Imagine my horror when, during the concluding meeting, the Head of Engineering said: "Mr. Varma, from your vast expertise, can you give some advice about a problem in operations?"My knees turned weak and heart started doing double-time: however, hiding my nervousness, I nodded.He continued. "Our reactor is facing solid deposition. The agitator inside the reactor was placed two metres above the bottom - to combat this problem, we reduced the clearance to a metre. The deposition has decreased, and we are able to live with it. However, we'd like to know whether we can lower it further. Can you advise?"I looked at the ceiling for a moment, and scratched my chin. The whole production team was staring expectantly at me.To gain time, I asked:"How much was the gap initially?""Two metres.""Hmm... and how much now?""A metre.""And you say the deposition has decreased, and you can live with it.""Yes.""Well..." I said, scratching my chin and trying to look knowledgeable: "You've left it very narrow, but it seems to be OK. Don't reduce it any further, however.""Oh no!" The Head of Engineering and the production team heaved a collective sigh of relief.The expert had spoken.----------------------------Now, thanks to Harry Frankfurt, I know that what I did could be called "bullshitting" - not exactly lying, nor telling the truth, but speaking with scant regard to whether whatever I am saying is true or false - to create a certain impression of oneself on an audience.Of course, I have the defence that I was trying to save my life (well, reputation, anyway). What justification do our politicians have, when they do it daily on the TV (other than entertainment value), I wonder.----------------------------12/05/2016Well, what do you know! Our estimable Prime Minister is also showing his capabilities in this art...Prime Minister Modi compares Kerala to SomaliaStory behind the picture that provoked PM Modi’s Somalia jibe in Kerala

  • Manny
    2019-05-31 08:41

    This slim, elegant little book looks at first like an elaborate joke, but I think it is actually quite serious. What is "bullshit"? asks the author, a distinguished moral philosopher. He examines and discards various plausible hypotheses, for example that bullshit is merely lying or careless use of language. As he points out, the bullshit artist often lies, but need not do so: some bullshit is, more or less by accident, perfectly true. And similarly, although much bullshit is hasty or careless, some of the worst bullshit around is crafted with exquisite care and attention to detail; one need only think of commercial advertising and political campaigns. The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  • Amir
    2019-06-13 08:37

    یه سوال جالب که برام پیش اومد با خوندن این کتاب، معادل فارسی برای عنوان این کتاب بود. Bullshitاین کلمه توی زبان انگلیسی معادل های زیر رو داره به طور مثال:humbug, claptrap, hokum, drivel, buncombe, imposture, quackery ...توی فارسی چی داریم معادل این ها؟ چرند مثلا، چرت و پرت، مزخرف و چیزای دیگه ... این کتاب یک مقاله کوتا در خصوص تعریف این کلمه هست و کسایی که کارشون بولشت گفتن هست. مثلا اومده به طور مفصل بولشت گفتن رو با دروغ گفتن مقایسه کرده و ازین نظر خیلی جالب توجه. شاهکار کتاب برای من این بخشش بود:از نظر اخلاقی، کسی که بولشت می گه نسبت به یک دروغ گور دشمن جدی تری برای حقیقت محسوب می شه. کسی که دروغ می گه، توجه داره که سری حقایقی وجود دارن و از یک سری راه و روشهایی می شه به اون حقایق رسید. کسی که دروغ می گه در باطن خودش می دونه یک تفاوتی بین ادعایی که می کنه و حقیقت در اون خصوص وجود داره. اما کسی که به درست یا غلط بودن یک گزاره ای کاری نداره می تونه دو حالت داشته باشه:یک اینکه شخصی که بولشت میگه از هرگونه تلاشی چه برای گفتن حقیقت و یا فریب دادن دست می کشه. یعنی کلا هیچ ادعای در مورد حقایق نداره.مورد دیگه اینه که طرف تلاش می کنه یک سری ادعاهایی در مورد اینکه مسائل چه جوری هستن مطرح کنه که در نهایت چیزی جز بولشت نمی تونن باشن :))

  • Jokoloyo
    2019-05-21 07:25

    Even without knowing the author, I can identify the author is a highly educated person. (view spoiler)[But please don't be intimidated by author's career in academic. Just read this book alone we can have a glimpse of author's mind. (hide spoiler)] The descriptions are so pristine and sharp reflects author's mind, for example you will learn to distinct between bullshit and lie. But then the average rating of this book when I read it is pretty low (3.50) and some reviewers cannot determine to like it or not, so I wonder why. I want to propose a hypothesis: the readers (unconsciously) feel the book has a lot of nonsense. Yes, this book that discussing about bullshit is dragging the readers with a lot of hot-air tenses/paragraphs. This book has both qualities: an enlightening work with many bullshits. Some people rate based on the nonsense content (view spoiler)[what do you expect for the majority of this book, full illuminating knowledge in each tense?(hide spoiler)], some people rate based on the knowledge gems in the book. I enjoyed reading this book, and I imagine the author enjoyed and had fun writing this book.ADDITION: I choose this book as the most fun read for year 2016.

  • Rakhi Dalal
    2019-05-26 01:34

    "Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial-notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit."This is how the work ends :)

  • Darwin8u
    2019-05-18 03:24

    “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” ― Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit Sometimes what is natural still deserves a little study. What is exactly is bullshit? How is bullshit different from a lie? How is bullshit different than humbug? If these questions plague you or you are just seeking a philosopher's take on the nature, design, function, and theory of bullshit -- well do I have a book (a short book) for you.In the current election year especially, this title deserves a bit more attention. Upon reflection, this book might suggest that Trump is, at heart, more of a bullshitter than a prevaricator. He isn't saying things he knowingly KNOWS false (although he probably does that too), but rather he just talks without knowing about the things he talks about. I've got a good friend who is a ghostwriter for Trump. At dinner a few weeks ago, he suggested that most people underestimate just how little Trump actually knows. So perhaps, (and this is certainly no excuse and NO REASON to elect the man) Trump isn't a liar but a well-formed, well-practiced, toxic bullshit artist. He is just the guy on the corner selling bullshit. I guess, now that he looks to be almost unelectable, I'm more concerned really about the people standing in line STILL to buy some of that bullshit.

  • Lynne King
    2019-06-15 04:15

    In this paper, we distinguish three important classes of dishonesty that can occur in multi-agent systems, as well as in human society. In particular, the distinction is being made between lies and bullshit, following the work of Harry Frankfurt. The difference is that someone who tells a lie has access to the truth, whereas the concept of bullshit requires no knowledge of the truth at all. That is, the liar knows that what he says is not true, whereas the bullshitter has no proper knowledge to support the statements he or she is making. (Martin Caminada, University of Luxembourg).Before I read this essay, I had no idea who Harry Frankfurt was and it wasn’t until I had done some research last night before beginning this book that I found out that he’s a renowned moral philosopher and realized He is professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University and has previously taught at Yale University and Rockefeller University.So the tiny hardback that I had initially purchased had been because of the title and I thought that it would prove to be amusing. I wouldn’t really call this book amusing but it made me think, and thus when reasoning came into the equation, the book thus took me far longer to read.I always thought that “bullshit” was on a par with “lying” and “bull” but obviously that’s not the case and as for “humbug”? I must confess that I haven’t really thought about it. Basically don’t they all deal with some form of nonsense? One can just sail through life with vocabulary and actually be unaware of the true essence of words.I can give you an example of what I perceived to be bullshit at the time. I have a brother, Roy, who is eleven years older than me. He’s indeed a bullshitter and known for it by our family and all of his friends. I recall when I was about ten he took me out in his car through the countryside, as he was en route to his girlfriend Sue. My mother had insisted that I went along. Was I some kind of junior chaperone? When we arrived at Sue’s home, I was given a book to read and stayed in the lounge on my own for about two hours. What did they get up to?Well we passed some cows in the field on the left and Roy laughed. “Guess what Lynne? I was following a mini the other day and it came to this exact spot. It then suddenly flipped over the hedge and landed on top of a cow”! I ask you. It’s nonsense I know but is that bullshit, bull or humbug ? I knew that it was fanciful and did Roy make me laugh. I never could find out though what had happened to the cow or the car.I realize that philosophers are searching for wisdom and enlightenment but it is really all down to interpretation and the thought processes are all so different. I didn’t have too much of a problem with Descartes as I read him at university and also Seneca but when it gets to Roger Scruton; he is way above me in his thinking process. So this book, although thoroughly enjoyable, I wondered, when I arrived at a reference to Wittgenstein, how I would react to him. He evidently detested any form of “nonsense” which actually rather amused me and so I could certainly appreciate how he would relate to a comment made by Fania Pascal, who had known him at Cambridge in the thirties:I had my tonsils out and was in the Evelyn Nursing Home feeling sorry for myself. Wittgenstein called. I croaked “I feel just like a dog that has been run over.”’ He was disgusted: “You don’t what a dog that has been run over feels like.”It makes one wonder though if what Fania said was true or was Wittgenstein joking or trying to joke anyway? Difficult really to determine without knowing the facts.I don’t think that I could have handled a much larger book than this but this was definitely good as a taster and sometimes tasters are the best things in life.Thanks Rakhi for enticing me with your somewhat brief review.

  • David Schaafsma
    2019-05-27 01:14

    “On Bullshit” is a short academic essay packaged into a small hardcover, published in 2005, before the current iteration of political discourse.I worried this about Bush as I now do Trump: Is he a pathological liar? Is he crazy? Is he stupid? Is he just a bullshitter? Frankfurt is a bit helpful here in making a 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.” Humbug. Balderdash. Claptrap. Hokum. Quackery. Drivel.“Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through”—E. AmblerIn the end he also says all claims to sincerity are bullshit, which would include his essay, a claim about which I agree. I didn’t know what to expect exactly when I began reading it, but I didn’t expect it to be so flat and scholarly and dull. I was hoping for more laughs, which we all need in this Time of Remarkable Bullshit.Thanks to Michael for posting Frankfurt’s 2016 Time Magazine article on Trump and bullshit:here “Everybody Knows,” Leonard Cohen:

  • John Wiswell
    2019-06-07 00:21

    Yes, the subject is a funny word. But the text is dry, and the substance is suspect. Frankfurt spends most of his (admirably few) pages examining causes for bullshitting, in very dry and highly speculative fashion. While it is interesting to read exactly how "bullshit" is different from "nonsense," "lies," and "deception," the term can be used to mean just those things. Like other popular swears, it's a broad word. Frankfurt is more interested in a phenomenon that he believes can only be described under this word, though, which hurts a treatise that ought to encapsulate the word entirely. This book could easily be used to condemn all art and human emotion as "bullshit," and while that might make you or Mr. Frankfurt feel clever, it's not useful. His speculation on precisely what makes people bullshit is useful, though it misses the gravity of the biggest cause: that people don't care.

  • Amir The Fat Bookworm
    2019-05-18 02:32

    "...Sincerity itself is bullshit."Though I should point out that I'm not a "Frankfurtist" as I disagree with his main theories on the matter of free will, But I like his style. His style of logical argumentation is to some extent precise which is much appreciated in the age of continental philosopher (or as I call them, lazy-ass-dramatic-claimer). Also, his style of writing is fun, elegant and rather enjoyable to read. I would recommend reading this essay to almost anyone who has time for 64 pages of reading.

  • Khadidja
    2019-06-02 08:16

    Everyone lies, for many psychological reasons , it’s just a question of how, when and why , in this book Harry G. Frankfurt demonstrates, through argument and example, the difference between  lying  and  bullshit, A liar is the one who knows the truth but tell something else, A bullshitter "does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up to suit his purpose." This is a perfect description of politiciansWhile liars say things they know are untrue, bullshitters say whatever they think will work best and have no interest in whether their statements are true or not."Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about".you know what they say “dance like nobody's watching” I feel like bullshitters/Liars and especially politicians hear this “lie like no one is fact-checking you” and the perfect example of pathological liar is Donald trump !

  • Jon(athan) Nakapalau
    2019-05-25 02:40

    A look at the BS we face everyday. We have all met a person who has to 'one up' everyone with their BS. The interesting thing that I have noticed is that people who like to BS a lot can't stand it if they think someone is trying to BS them; they become hyper sensitive to the BS of other people. Great book on a little examined subject.

  • Mark
    2019-06-13 01:44

    As pleasant a rainy Saturday morning read it all in one sitting book as I can ever remember experiencing. You might suspect from the title that the overall purpose of the book is to in some way appeal to the readers' sense of humor, but it is quite serious. Not that things serious are not without their appeals to a healthy sense of humor.Enthusiastically recommended.

  • Andrew
    2019-06-04 07:40

    On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt is an in depth (maybe?) philosophical examination of bullshit. Its definition, use, and relation to the world and humanity are examined in detail. Frankfurt looks at the definitions and concepts of lying, humbug, bull session, and so on, to compare various forms of "hot air" to bullshit. He examines our need as humans to seem knowledgeable on various subjects, and therefore "bluff our way through" to try and seem knowledgeable to others. Why do we do this? Frankfurt tries to differentiate bullshit from lies, where lies are deliberate attempts to hide a fact, and bullshit is less concerned with truth or fiction. Bullshit can be seen as an attempt to explore subjects intellectually, by teasing out definitions, and "muddling through" the idea in question by exploring the known and unknown of the particular topic or concept. It can also be a way to try and deceive others into thinking one knows more about a subject than they actually do. Frankfurt's short little book is illuminating and humorous. In an age where we need to sell ourselves at job interviews or on a date, or where we enjoy sitting down and "shooting the shit" with our friends both on and offline, where politicians flaunt facts and figures with no value, and where marketers and PR firms white wash their products for our consumption, Frankfurt's little treatise is interesting and highly relevant. It is also very humorous, and not necessarily meant to be taken seriously. It is, as much is, a load of hot air, and I personally enjoyed it immensely.

  • Marvin
    2019-06-04 07:29

    This very short book is a philosophical essay on the nature of bullshit. The main question that Frankfurt appears to be answering is, "Is lying always bullshit and is bullshit always lying?". The answer appears to be no and no. Frankfurt's distinction between the two is essentially this: The liar is conscious of the difference between the lie and the truth. In order to deceive you must have a grasp on where the truth lies. The bullshitter is not interested in the truth. He loses all connection between the truth and the lie.This is the basic revelation in Frankfurt's essay although it is much more fun reading his ideas on this than mine. He does an admirable job in setting up his points and giving a working definition to lying and bullshit. Surprisingly easy to read, this is well worth the 20 minutes you will need to read it. I will also call your attention to the last four words of this essay. While not technically a spoiler I will avoid quoting them in order to give you the pleasure of reading them and discovering that Frankfurt has hit upon a major truth.

  • Josh
    2019-06-17 06:41

    "When we characterize talk as hot air, we mean that what comes out of the speaker’s mouth is only that. It is mere vapor. His speech is empty, without substance or content. His use of language, accordingly, does not contribute to the purpose it purports to serve. No more information is communicated than if the speaker had merely exhaled. There are similarities between hot air and excrement, incidentally, which make hot air seem an especially suitable equivalent for bullshit."In this very short work, perhaps essay, Frankfurt makes concise and believable distinctions between concepts that many people think to be interchangeable (ie. Lying, humbug, bluffing, joshing in regards to bullshit). An enjoyable and thoughtful read for people who tend to break down certain expressions (such as me) and wonder where the hell said expressions originated. Recommended.

  • Scott Rhee
    2019-06-11 02:31

    Due to a politically apathetic populace, a Democratic party so intent on electing the first woman president that it completely overlooked and ignored a largely white working-class rural demographic that was---at one point---its own base, and a Republican party so overrun with politicians in the pockets of big-money special interests, an orange tiny-handed reality show host with a face permanently set in a scowl and/or in the throes of chronic constipation was, amazingly, elected to the highest office in the U.S. government.How this happened would probably take several “War and Peace”-length volumes to adequately dissect and explain, but suffice it to say that a significant portion of the explanation can be linked back to the fact that a large voting bloc of the American public simply grew sick and tired of all the bullshit.This is why voters in 2016 were attracted to candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump: nontraditional, irreverent, disinterested in playing by the rules. Whereas Sanders had experience in Washington, D.C. and a lengthy tenure in both the House and Senate, his progressive Independent ideals that he maintained consistently for 30 years were refreshing to voters sick and tired of the flip-flopping of politicians in both parties based less on crises of conscience than on poll numbers and the amount of money they were receiving from special interest groups.Whereas Trump had a history of being a showy billionaire whose only real talent apart from his self-fashioned “business deal negotiator extraordinaire” persona was perhaps his utterly shameless but brilliantly skillful self-promotion, voters seemed to like his no-nonsense “tell it like it is” anti-political correctness.One candidate came across as genuine and authentic. The other was a spoiled rich kid with the vocabulary of a 12-year-old. One was honest, the other was a blatant bullshitter.Ironically, the people who were tired of the bullshit of Washington, D.C. elected the bullshitter.Go figure.Now, thanks to President Trump, we are living in a post-truth world in which the very nature of truth and lies has seemingly been altered at the molecular level and rearranged. As someone in Trump’s entourage recently said, there is no such thing, anymore, as facts.Facts have become bullshit and bullshit has become truth.This may seem like some incomprehensibly insane alternate dimension plot of the TV show “Fringe”, but it makes complete sense after reading Harry G. Frankfurt’s book “On Bullshit”.In his extremely short (a surprisingly deep 67 pages that even the notoriously bibliophobic Trump might actually be able to read if it weren’t so erudite and had pictures in it) dissertation on the definition and nature of bullshit, Frankfurt posits that most people incorrectly mistake lying with bullshit and vice versa. Bullshit’s relationship with truth and lies is not so easily apparent.According to Frank, while similar and with often similar outcomes, lying and bullshitting are not the same. Both actions stem from the truth and one’s relationship to it.Liars respect the truth in that they, at least, acknowledge that something is true. A lie can’t be considered a lie if the liar doesn’t believe in the truth, which is the opposite of what he is trying to convey. “A person who lies,” writes Frankfurt, “is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. (p.56)”Bullshitters, on the other hand, don’t give a shit if something is true or false. They simply want to convince everyone of their own perceived reality: “[The bullshitter] 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. (p.56)”When Trump tweeted that his inauguration had the largest attendance of any inauguration in history, despite all evidence to the contrary, he wasn’t lying. He was bullshitting. He didn’t care if his statement conformed to the truth. He was simply trying to convince everyone of the reality that he was seeing in his own mind, as opposed to the reality of Reality.When Trump claimed that he won the popular vote, once one eliminated the five million or so “illegal” voters, he wasn’t lying. He was bullshitting. He couldn’t care less that his statements flew in the face of all evidence that voter fraud and malfeasance simply did not exist to the extent that he claimed. He was simply trying to convince everyone of his own reality.Bullshitters like Trump are more dangerous than liars because liars can eventually be called out on their lies. At some point, a liar must admit defeat and acknowledge the very truth that they, in their hearts, know is true.Bullshitters like Trump don’t need to admit defeat because they don’t care if what they are saying is true or not. They just need to say it loud enough and often enough that people become so inured to it that they eventually accept it as their own reality.If Trump keeps bullshitting, and if enough people do nothing to countermand his bullshit---if his own party members cowtow to his every whim, if the media refuses to challenge him, if enough bored citizens sit around with their laissez faire “I don’t really follow politics” apathy and disinterest---the minority of those who refuse to buy his bullshit will be too powerless to stop him.That’s no bullshit...

  • Ryn Shane-Armstrong
    2019-06-01 08:33

    When I first retrieved On Bullshit from the reserve shelf at my local library, I thought someone was surely playing a joke on me. This 67-page essay, written by renowned Princeton professor and analytic philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, is comically contained in a diminutive hardback roughly the size of a passport and no thicker than a slice of bread. It's an unexpected form, to say the least, for a piece of writing with such a grand endeavor: to defend truth through deliberation on bullshit.Frankfurt is a keen thinker, and his writing reflects the depth and enthusiasm with which he engages the work. On Bullshit should not, therefore, be perceived as some sort of playful exercise in intellectual hedonism; it is an honest exploration into the nature of bullshit, particularly as it relates to lying. And there is most definitely a difference between the two! Where one seeks to deny truth through overt falsity (thus acknowledging the existence of truth the way shadow proves the presence of things), the other, bullshit, is completely indifferent. Bullshit simply doesn't have a horse in the race. It serves only itself, and for Frankfurt this is the truly insidious aspect of bullshit: it's a practice of utter carelessness. Bullshit just doesn't give a damn about anything. Ultimately, On Bullshit is a call for greater concern with how we understand and represent human knowledge. Frankfurt wants us to continue to believe in the possibility of establishing truth. In a nod to the ideals of the Enlightenment, Frankfurt dismisses the contemporary (perhaps postmodern?) skeptics of "objective inquiry" and reminds the reader that should we fail to honor truth over bullshit we risk losing touch with what it is that makes us human. Or, as Frankfurt explains, "As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we can not know ourselves at all without knowing them... Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial -- notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things."

  • Nat
    2019-05-19 07:19

    On first reading, this book/essay is enormously compelling and entertaining. But subsequent readings raise serious worries about Frankfurt's account. For example: On Frankfurt's account, there are two necessary conditions for something to count as bullshit:(1) The speaker must be indifferent to the truth of what he says.(2) He must intend to deceive his audience about his indifference to the truth of what he says. Who would count as such a producer of bullshit? Maybe the Fourth of July Orator who makes a bunch of patriotic claims which he doesn't care are true or false, and who aims to convince his audience of patriots that he actually believes. But that seems like a special case. Many other kinds of things we would intuitively call "bullshit" don't have those features. Even Frankfurt's example involving Wittgenstein and Fania Pascal lacks one of these two features: Pascal does not, in any obvious sense, intend to deceive Wittgenstein about her indifference to the truth of what she says ("I feel just like a dog that has been run over"). Moreover, it is unclear why Frankfurt thinks that the bullshitter is a greater enemy of truth than the liar, as he famously claims. He may be indifferent to the truth of what he says, but he clearly cares about giving his audience false beliefs about his own attitudes. So he isn't completely indifferent to the truth.

  • Brixton
    2019-06-17 05:43

    Living with the biggest bullshitter I've ever known distracted me somewhat from reading this impersonally. However, I've now a handy-dandy little argument in my pocket which supports my experience that bullshit is in its insidiousness far more unwieldy and destructive than lies. Liars, at least, respect that there is a truth which they withhold or obscure, and their lies are vulnerable to confession or exposure and therefore defeat; bullshitters are careless shape-shifters, to communicate with them is to engage in shadow-boxing. They are therefore impossible for a person who values truth and honesty to deal with. I appreciate Frankfurt's assertion that bullshitters, for having an eroded or entirely lost ability to recognise or even care about the truth, are greater enemies of the truth than those who tell lies. Think about gender, think about race, think about any specifically defined group of people in the world-- and all the bullshit generated about them by television and movies, artists, scientists, "experts", or any ol' group of dumbasses at work, the bar, on the internet. It's hard to defeat bullshit. It feels right in the hearts of those who perpetuate (or buy into) it, because they don't care if what comes out of their mouths is true or not; you can't hold them accountable and their consciences won't needle them a bit, because to them it's a matter not of truth (a fact-seeking activity) but "sincerity", a slippery category of self-knowledge, which itself is an unattainable objective. If it's true that good things come in little packages, the ideas and conclusions put forth in this bitty book are no exception.

  • Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
    2019-06-11 01:14

    A very quick read. The book is a mere 67 pages and the pages are very small. It's a pocket book. Well, I have to say it was a fun read but hardly worth buying. I would have rather bought another of the many books I have lined up and would like to own. Worth reading, but don't pay for it. You could read it in the bookstore in about 20-30 minutes. I read it while waiting for the bus tonight. I now know the difference between lying and bullshitting and really don't care all that much. I still look forward to reading more substantial works of Frankfurt's though. I like his style. I hear Reasons of Love and On Truth are rather good. Shoulda bought one of those instead.

  • Nicholas
    2019-05-28 01:31

    Frankfurt capitalizes on the potential for absurdity inherant in 'philosophical' texts. What philosophy sometimes comes down to, or rather, what critiqing it comes down to, is how well you can dissect what someone is actually saying, moving past all of the bullshit of language. The language used in this book is so dense at times that you might find it to be bullshit. The funny thing is, that's the point. He uses the language against itself. He describes how something can be bullshit if it sounds legit. More to the point, he proves that what may sound like bullshit is actually truth. Dig.

  • Dave Russell
    2019-06-08 06:18

    I was wondering how this book ever got published but then I read the "About the Author" section. Turns out Harry Frankfurt is a "renowned moral philosopher." I didn't know I was reading a renowned moral philosopher. I'm guessing he went to the publishers and was all like, "I'm a renowned moral philosopher, bitches, and I got this here essay on bullshit. Now are you gonna publish it or am I gonna have to get all categorically imperative on your asses. Respeck." I can't explain this book's existence in any other way.

  • Hadrian
    2019-05-21 07:28

    Common sense mixed in with some interesting thoughts and a provocative title. Ho-hum.

  • Tim
    2019-06-17 00:27

    So I picked up On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt at the thrift store on Friday and it is real philosophical reflection from a retired professor of moral philosophy at Princeton (printed by Princeton University Press). It is a brief and rambling little book and it would not rate higher than a three except for the conclusion to the book which I quote extensively from below. Frankfurt asserts, quite reasonably, that bullshit is widespread in our society. He then goes on to differentiate between lying and bullshit. For Frankfurt, the former retains a distinction between truth and falsehood, but chooses to be false. The latter blurs that distinction, with a certain willful carelessness. He relates a story where Wittgenstein chides a friend for making a thoughtless figure of speech, "You don't know what a dog that has been run over feels like." (24) For Wittgenstein, his friend's fault "is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying." (32) This is the heart of the distinction between lying and bullshit for Frankfurt, "That is why she cannot be regarded as lying: for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a propostion that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth - this indifference to how things really are - that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (33-34) For Frankfurt liars need the truth. "Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus." (51) "It "requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true." (52) The bullshiter has much more freedom because he is not constrained by any definitions of the truth. While both represent falsity to us, the liar does so deliberately, while the one passing bullshit has never cared for truth or falsity in the first place. He ends with these words:"Why is there so much bullshit? Of course it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays than at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased. Without assuming the incidence of bullshit is actually greater now, I will mention a few considerations that help to acount for the fact that it is currently so great. Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a persons's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled - whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others - to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country's affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person's opinions and his apprehensions of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it is his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world. The contemporary proliferation of bullshit has deeper sources, in various forms of scepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possiblility of knowing how things truly are. These "antirealist" doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as thought he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself. But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinancy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Morever, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial - notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit." (62-67)

  • Dov Zeller
    2019-05-28 02:41

    “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” Here is a small book that starts out with a social-linguistic comparison between hogwash and bullshit (or something like that. It's been a few months since I've read it.) and moves swiftly into an assessment of the liar's relationship to truth in comparison to the bullshiter's. In the end, Frankfurt posits that a liar knows what is true (or thinks they do, or has at least some respect for the concept of truh) and intentionally, for a specific purpose, corrupts the truth, either occasionally or frequently, whereas the bullshitter cares not an ounce about truth but only about dodging questions altogether and manipulating every situation towards the creation of a certain image and, to put it succinctly, conning us all. Sound familiar?Yep, a good book to read around inauguration day. Short, sweet, to the point, chillingly timely. We live inside a three stooges episode stuffed inside a Kafka nightmare stuffed inside...a turkey? With a band of so-called politicians (with no experience as such, but much experience with bullying and other violences, stealing, slithering, and giving zero fucks about anything but the obsessive accrual of wealth and power) who have so little respect for truth or institutional checks and balances they seem to be disintegrating our entire democracy with their vague laser eyes and vaporous rhetorical stances. There are many things that don't get addressed in here, or are addressed in a wishy washy way. This is not a full exploration of what "truth" is and how i functions communally, or what distinguishes, for example, an outright lie from a 'white lie' or 'lie of omission.' He talks a little about why liars lie and suggests that compulsive liars do it for the pleasure, which I think is way off the mark, certainly as a generalization. But I think he's on the mark in terms of why bullshitters bullshit. I'd be curious to see him address why some people consider bullshit to be "refreshingly direct" "Saying it like it is" even if said speaker is saying it like it isn't or like he wishes it were.

  • Athena
    2019-06-01 04:39

    Pretentious, tedious word play with a topic and title to guarantee more book sales than a bound essay would ever accrue on its own merits. Having been sprung from doing time in academia my tolerance for this type of entitled, 'more-intellectual-than-thou' pomposity has grown thin enough that I skimmed the last half of the essay and even that felt like too much attention.Frankfurt's cleverness is drowned by his intellectual masturbation, he created a work more of bullshit that on bullshit: one wonders if that was the point? To take a scalpel to another writer's musing on 'humbug' but ignore exaggeration and deflection (view spoiler)[as illustrated by the 45th president of the US (hide spoiler)] entirely seems to point to either his own self-delusion or that this essay is, in fact, a deliberate act of bullshit itself.Regardless of intent, Frankfurt says nothing new and nothing not better and far more concisely (and amusingly) conveyed in stand-up comedy, decades ago, by the likes of George Carlin and Robin Williams.