The Princeton University Press has released Harry Frankfurt’s paper “On Bullshit” as a bound pamphlet, and it looks like Frankfurt is going to be on The Daily Show on March 14. Blog news about that at Crooked Timber. Some professional philosophers are turning up their noses, and some are applauding Frankfurt’s move to talk about truth, bullshit and lies on television. Some of them are nitpicking about whether this paper says anything new. That’s easy for them to say – I think a little publicity for this paper may give people some help in thinking about why we can’t believe a lot of what people try to tell and sell us.
The full paper is available on line here. It’s a short paper – it came to about 25 pages in a larger font, generously spaced.
It discusses truth and bullshit in ordinary talk, advertising, and politics. Bullshit is what we hear from people who don’t care about the truth. Liars care about the truth. Liars say things they know aren’t true. Bullshitters don’t care about the truth. It’s not that they are careless about their story – their presentation may be elaborate, beautiful, and even true in some measure. But the bullshitter isn’t trying to tell the truth. The bullshitter is a story-teller. Bullshitters believe in themselves, sincerely. They want you to listen to them and like them, and they want you to believe them. The problem is that their stories aren’t reliable.
It’s a nice piece of work, which has inspired a lot of thought.