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On Bullshit

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  5,516 ratings  ·  522 reviews
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 concern. We have no clear underst ...more
ebook, 80 pages
Published January 10th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2005)
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Manny
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
Petra X
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
...more
Rakhi Dalal
Nov 08, 2014 Rakhi Dalal rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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 :)
Lynne King
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 17, 2007 John Wiswell rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
Marvin
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
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
...more
Nat
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
...more
Mark
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.
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
...more
Brixton
Dec 22, 2010 Brixton rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Nicholas
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
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
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
...more
Darwin8u
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...

_______________

- Robert Farwell / Edward Jones library / Mesa, AZ 2014
Josh
"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
...more
Greg
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
Mon
I didn't finish the book, so my review is bullshit anyway.
David
Brief (67 small pages) analysis by a professor of philosophy regarding what is meant by the title term. It was funny (to me) to consider the range of terms (e.g., hot air, hogwash, balderdash, drivel, and one I hadn't come across before, "imposture") resembling "bullshit", but most of the discussion is given over to differentiating BS (indifference to the truth of what you are saying, phoniness) from lying (intentional misrepresentation, which is necessarily false). Wraps it up with the surprisi ...more
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
...more
Cassi
I hate to say this... but this book was sad. It was a C+ college paper at best, where the topic had potential and the author failed to go anywhere or make any reasonable conclusions, or really, even come to a deinition of Bullshit (and the part about men bullshitting and women henning was SUCH a stretch and I think was contradictory to the rest of the "argument")... He compares it to humbug, but not to exaggeration, and then pulls the most irrelevant literary topics to be discussed.

If you reall
...more
dara
Book, you better be glad you are short and I borrowed you from the library, because how do people spend money on you?
Books Ring Mah Bell
Pretentious poop. Bullshit, if you will.
Yasmine
On of the most interesting things about our culture now is the development of our language. Each of us has at some point morphed the language we have used, be it to hide what we were trying to say or soften the actual words for proper company. There are many words that have an interesting history that only a diachronic linguist would salivate over, but none as captivating to us as the word bullshit.

We have all used it, excessively at times, to describe a varied number of things. It is possibly h
...more
Temperandrea
[...] Stronzate è un libro importante, che celebra l’impegno e condanna il permissivismo, la noncuranza e il lassismo di chi «cerca sempre, in un modo o nell’altro, di passarla liscia». Mentre lo leggevo pensavo ai Greci, il cui modo di fare politica, insieme etico e tecnico, si basava sul “dialogo” fra le diverse parti del corpo sociale. Essere politici, insegnano i Greci, non significa soltanto legiferare o intraprendere la carriera di politico, perché “politico” è in primo luogo chi sa far be ...more
Aaron Maurer
This is a very short read of around 70 pages in a tiny book. The title grabbed my attention, but what I took away from this book was more than just a definition on bullshit. The author wrote an eloquent dissertation and argument why no other word could possibly be as good as the word bullshit. I studied this book to learn how to argue and find ways to looking at the whole issue and being able to create active dialogue. Read this book for nothing more than how to articulate your ideas and thought ...more
Alan
A really inspiring little book that helped me understand the dynamics in some institutional situations.
I wrote an article, part of which was about the questions raised by this book:
From clockwork to webs of relationships. The relation between policy and practice
http://www.connected.org/learn/policy...
Here's a short extract:
... A number of administrations have chosen an alternative strategy, however. Recognising implicitly that they cannot force practice to comply with their wishes and not wantin
...more
Toresbeluga
"Kişinin doğru olanı bilmediği müddetçe yalan söylemesi mümkün değildir. Saçmalamak ise bunu gerektirmez. Yalan söyleyen kişi, doğru olan üzerinden gider, ona saygı duymak zorundadır. Dürüst bir adam konuşmaya başladığında sadece doğru olduğuna inandığı şeyleri söyler; yalancı da söylediği her şeyin yanlış olması gerektiğini bilir. Saçmalayan kişi içinse durum tamamen farklıdır; o ne gerçeğin ne de yalanın tarafındadır. Hem dürüst adamın, hem de yalancının gözleri her şekilde gerçeğin üzerindedi ...more
Hemant
I picked up this pocket book in a library hoping it to be some humorous satire but turned out to be some philosophical stuff. The book is not humorous in any way. Rather it is a full-fledged serious analysis of the word 'bullshit'! Cannot say I don't recommend this book. But it can be ignored ;-)
BHodges
I don't get the hate for this little meditation seen in some of the reviews. I picked up a used copy for four bucks and it was well worth it. This is really a discussion of truth, lies, and communication. Sparked a few interesting conversations and only took about an hour to read.
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Harry G. 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.” 26 likes
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