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On Bullshitby Harry G. Frankfurt
Lying is a craft, but bullshitting is an art. "Hence the familiar notion of the 'bullshit artist,'" moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt reminds us in this fun, erudite treatise. On Bullshit surely ranks as one of the best gift books to come along in quite some time, but — I shit you not — gift-giving aside, you'll probably want a copy for yourself.
Synopses & 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 understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory."
Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. 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.
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.
"Even physically the essay mocks itself with high bravado: hardback, throwback, big print." Nick Sylvester, The Village Voice
"Frankfurt's deadpan tone gives a comic flavor to many of his observations." Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle
"You can read the book yourself in less than two hours. You will have given your brain a good workout and acquired a useful angle of view on an inescapable element of our culture. Think of On BS as an intellectual jeu d'esprit. Light on the jeu." Houston Chronicle
"All told, Frankfurt's approach suffers from excessive privileging of what one might call an 'internal point of view' — that of the speaker of bullbunkum. Unfortunately, the word is most often spoken as a judgment on someone else's speech." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious." Slate
"The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity..." Peter Edidin, The New York Times
A humorous philosophical investigation into the existence of Santaand#151;from a co-executive producer ofand#160;The Big Bang Theory, the #1 sitcom on televisionand#160;
Metaphysics isnand#8217;t ordinarily much of a laughing matter. But in the hands of acclaimed comedy writer and scholar Eric Kaplan, a search for the truth about old St. Nick becomes a deeply insightful, laugh-out-loud discussion of the way some things exist but may not really be there. Just like Santa and his reindeer.
Even after we outgrow the jolly fellow, the essential paradox persists: There are some things we dearly believe in that are not universally acknowledged as real. Inand#160;Does Santa Exist?and#160;Kaplan shows how philosophy giants Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein strove to smooth over this uncomfortable meeting of the real and unrealand#151;and failed. From there he turns to mysticismand#8217;s attempts to resolve such paradoxes, surveying Buddhism, Taoism, early Christianity, Theosophy, and even the philosophers at UC Berkeley under whom he studied. Finally, this brilliant comic writer alights onand#151;surpriseand#151;comedy as the ultimate resolution of the fundamental paradoxes of life, using examples fromand#160;The Big Bang Theory, Monty Pythonand#8217;s cheese shop sketch, and many other pop-culture sources.
Finally Kaplan delves deeper into what this means, from how our physical brains work to his own personal confrontations with lifeand#8217;s biggest questions: If weand#8217;re all going to die, whatand#8217;s the point of anything? What is a perfect moment? What can you say about God? Or Santa?
"A gem of psychological insight, social commentary, philosophical analysis, and good humor. This is the work of an extraordinarily acute, attentive, and versatile philosopher who has succeeded in addressing an audience comprised of both other philosophers and the general public on a topic of considerable human interest in a characteristically wry and engaging way. It is one of the most enjoyable and humanly illuminating short pieces of philosophy produced in the past fifty years."--Raymond Geuss, University of Cambridge
"The most audacious of the ancient alchemists desired to transmute lead into gold. They never succeeded. Who would have known that they should have started not with a base metal, but with bullshit? Harry Frankfurt offers a philosophical analysis of bullshit that is golden. The prose by turns employs irony, broad humor, and tongue-in-cheek high seriousness while at the same time manages to have a rigorous logical coherence that is always impressive. One leaves the essay not merely thinking it was a delight. One leaves it realizing that one has engaged the accomplishment of a great analyst and thinker."--William Chester Jordan, Professor of History, Princeton University
About the Author
Harry G. Frankfurt is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University. His books include The Reasons of Love (Princeton), Necessity, Volition, and Love, and The Importance of What We Care About.
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