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On Bullshit

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  7,727 Ratings  ·  809 Reviews
A #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One 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 con
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ebook, 80 pages
Published January 10th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 1986)
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Michael Finocchiaro
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 bu ...more
Bill  Kerwin
Jun 15, 2007 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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Petra Eggs
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
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Nandakishore Varma
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 sta
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Manny
May 06, 2011 Manny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Philosophers, bullshit artists
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, ...more
Jokoloyo
May 23, 2016 Jokoloyo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even without knowing the author, I can identify the author is a highly educated person. (view 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 lik ...more
Rakhi Dalal
Nov 07, 2014 Rakhi Dalal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rakhi by: Manny
"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
Dec 20, 2013 Darwin8u rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
“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

description

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.

I
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David Schaafsma

“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. Clapt
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Lynne King
Nov 12, 2014 Lynne King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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 ...more
John Wiswell
Aug 13, 2007 John Wiswell rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in semantics, philosophy readers
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 describ ...more
Khadidja
Apr 07, 2016 Khadidja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 politicians

While liars say things they kno
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Mark
Oct 04, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
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
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? Fran ...more
Marvin
May 06, 2011 Marvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 b ...more
Josh
May 08, 2013 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
"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 w
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Scott Rhee
Jan 27, 2017 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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 o ...more
Ryn Shane-Armstrong
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.

Frank
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Nat
Mar 11, 2007 Nat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 wh
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Jon(athan) Nakapalau
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.
Brixton
Dec 16, 2010 Brixton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brixton by: bookswap
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 t ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
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
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Nicholas
Feb 25, 2007 Nicholas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dave Russell
Apr 21, 2008 Dave Russell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, worst
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 existen ...more
Tim
Jun 01, 2008 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 lyin
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Dov Zeller
Jan 14, 2017 Dov Zeller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, humor
“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 so
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Athena
Feb 15, 2017 Athena rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: verbal valium fans
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 wo
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Greg
Dec 23, 2011 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
When setting out to read a scholarly philosophical work on the nature of "bullshit," I expected some degree of humor. But I thought that this humor would solely come from the process of reading a boring essay where I happen to get to read the word bullshit regularly. But this essay was funny, like really really funny. At first I thought it was unintentional, but as I went along I started thinking that it was just too perfectly crafted to be unintentional humor. And yet, at the same time, Frankfu ...more
Hadrian
Oct 11, 2010 Hadrian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Common sense mixed in with some interesting thoughts and a provocative title. Ho-hum.
Paul
Sometimes a great way to learn how to philosophize is just to see it done. In this short monograph, talented philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, analyzes the concept of "bullshit" (B.S.). What do we mean, precisely, when we say of something that it is B.S.? Or that someone is a B.S.er? Frankfurt takes on this task and produces a fine piece of philosophy, with some helpful points along the way.

Frankfurt claims that the essence of B.S. is a lack of connection with truth, an indifference to how things re
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Harry Gordon Frankfurt is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University.
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“The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These "anti-realist" doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility 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 though 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 to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy 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. Moreover, 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.”
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“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” 38 likes
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