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On Bullshit

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On Bullshit Cover

ISBN13: 9780691122946
ISBN10: 0691122946
Condition: Standard
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Staff Pick

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.
Recommended by Kyle, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"Even physically the essay mocks itself with high bravado: hardback, throwback, big print." Nick Sylvester, The Village Voice

Review:

"Frankfurt's deadpan tone gives a comic flavor to many of his observations." Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"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

Review:

"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

Review:

"Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious." Slate

Review:

"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

Synopsis:

"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

Synopsis:

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.

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.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Dana Spencer, January 5, 2010 (view all comments by Dana Spencer)
This is a very clever book - I've given at least 8 as gifts over the past few years. Thinking about the real difference between a liar and a bullshitter is just fascinating - one KNOWS they are not telling the truth, the other doesn't care and may not know what the truth is - which is more annoying/dangerous to have in your life? The book presents these ideas and more for your consideration.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691122946
Author:
Frankfurt, Harry G.
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Author:
Frankfurt, Harry
Location:
Princeton
Subject:
Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Subject:
Truthfulness and falsehood
Subject:
Philosophy
Subject:
Sociology
Subject:
World History/Comparative History
Subject:
American Language and Literature
Subject:
American literature
Subject:
Philosophy | Ethics
Copyright:
Publication Date:
January 2005
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
College/higher education:
Language:
English
Pages:
80
Dimensions:
6 x 4 in 4 oz

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Related Subjects


Humanities » Philosophy » Ethics
Humanities » Philosophy » General
Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Astrophysics

On Bullshit Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 80 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691122946 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

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.

"Review" by , "Even physically the essay mocks itself with high bravado: hardback, throwback, big print."
"Review" by , "Frankfurt's deadpan tone gives a comic flavor to many of his observations."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious."
"Review" by , "The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity..."
"Synopsis" by ,

"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

"Synopsis" by ,

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.

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