Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

Princeton emeritus professor of philosophy Harry G. Frankfurt has published a book On Bullshit (Princeton U. Press, 2005).

With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

The Press’s website also includes video clips of an interview with the straight-talking bullshitologist. Here’s my transcription of clip 7.

Q: You mentioned democratization as a function of bullshit. What about education? Are more highly educated people more likely to engage in bullshit just because they have the faculties to do so? I mean, are we more likely to be twits here at Princeton University than in some other part of the country?

A: I think it’s not only that highly educated people have the linguistic and intellectual gifts that enable them to create bullshit. But also I think that a lot of people who are highly educated acquire a kind of arrogance that leads them to be negligent about truth and falsity. They have a lot of confidence in their own opinions, and this may also encourage them to produce bullshit.

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Filed under education, language, philosophy

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