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On Bullshit

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  11,698 ratings  ·  1,283 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
Hardcover, 74 pages
Published January 30th 2005 by Princeton University Press (first published 1986)
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Popular Answered Questions
Chunlei Yes, absolutely and then you would be fighting against a tidal wave.
A nice starting point would be a list of familiar bullshit in circulation.…more
Yes, absolutely and then you would be fighting against a tidal wave.
A nice starting point would be a list of familiar bullshit in circulation.(less)
Michael Brown Don't recall any mention or hints re: those names in the book, but he's clear that speech motives in politics are unconcerned with truth or a search f…moreDon't recall any mention or hints re: those names in the book, but he's clear that speech motives in politics are unconcerned with truth or a search for it. BTW my review anticipated, coincidentally, also in the form of a question, your line of thought on this subject. (less)

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Bill Kerwin
Jun 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing

I found this tiny book both illuminating and useful when I first read it in 2005. Now, amidst the bullshit-crammed tweet storms of Dear Leader 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
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
Petra kissed a prince and he turned into a frog
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
picoas picoas
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

"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."

In “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt

" ’a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surroundin
Nandakishore Mridula
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
May 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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 :)
Dec 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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


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.
Dave 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
John Wiswell
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Lynne King
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
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. ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
"...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 pag
Clumsy Storyteller
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 kn
Dave Russell
Apr 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: worst, nonfiction
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
Scott Rhee
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 11, 2007 rated it 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 wh
Frankfurt discusses the difference between bullshit and lies. Lying is a conscious act of deception, while BSing is distinguished by its indifference to how things really are. The liar, in order to lie, must know what he thinks is true, whereas the BSer doesn’t care what is true. So in a sense bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

Frankfurt says that the reason BS is so common is because people are convinced that they are obligated to have opinions on everything, and so they pr
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I feel like for a book on bullshit, it was way too short.

I picked this up because I had to teach my 14 year old how to bullshit her English essays. She was writing one or two word answers and getting B’s even though she’s basically the only kid who reads the entire book. I taught her how to fill a paragraph where a one word answer is technically correct but there’s a lot of room and you have to fill it because English teachers can be lazy.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Short & sweet. Opens with the premise that “one of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes our share” (1). This is reminiscent of Sloterdijk’s notion of enlightened false consciousness:
Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness. It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and in vain. It has learned its lessons in enlightenment, but it has not, and probably was
Dov Zeller
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, philosophy
“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
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Oct 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
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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Harry Gordon Frankfurt, Ph.D. (Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, 1954; M.A., Johns Hopkins, 1953; B.A., Johns Hopkins, 1949), is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University. He previously served as chair of the philosophy department at Yale University, 1978–1987, where he was also a lecturer in the School of Law, 1981–89. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ...more

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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.”
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” 58 likes
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