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On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
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's review
Mar 11, 2007

really liked it

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.
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03/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Neman I like your review but I don't agree.

Steve Donald J Trump fulfills both conditions. I rest my case.

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