On Bullshit

Monday, February 14, 2005

On Bullshit

For the last few years, I've been pretty interested in truth - in the use of lies, in the philosophy of truth and in the role of truth in politics. So when I came across this article in the New York Times I got pretty excited (I've filled in the missing words)
Harry G. Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house's distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers, including this one, would find unfit to print. The work is called "On Bullshit."

The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:

"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, nor attracted much sustained inquiry."
I found this section to be particularly relevant, considering the current administration
What is bullshit, after all? Mr. Frankfurt points out it is neither fish nor fowl. Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth.

"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth," Mr. Frankfurt writes. "A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it."

The bullshit artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is "getting away with what he says," Mr. Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to bullshit "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it," he writes. "He pays no attention to it at all."
I think that accurately sums the Bush administration and much of the Republican party - the truth or falsity of their views are completely subservient to their desire to promote their agenda and "get away" with all the bullshit that they spew.

Anyway, you can read Frankfurt's essay here.

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