Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Bullshit

I just came across the book On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt.   I have not read it, but it looks interesting.  One of the points from the book's description is a good one:
...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. 
Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
If you've ever been plagued by someone who engages in this behavior excessively, I think you'll agree that he hits the nail on the head.  At least someone who lies knows the truth; the bullshitter does not know the difference.  (Meaning, they have a bright future as a propagandist, a politician, or at least a P.R. hack.)

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