Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Review: On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt

Okay, so this is my first book review submission, and it's hardly even a book. It's more an pamphlet or essay that a publisher somehow thought could be hardbound and successfully marketed as a book. Also, it's not the most engaging book I have ever read, but for me as a marketing professional, it makes some interesting distinctions that are particularly relevant to my trade. I also found Frankfurt's ideas very compatible with a scientific worldview.

"When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true;and for the liar, it is correspondingly indespensible that he considers his starements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the eyes of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest of getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose."

Shortly after, Frankfurt asserts that bullshitting is even more damaging to the concept of "truth" than lying, essentially because willfully lying at least acknowledges that there is indeed something called "truth" to be thwarted, whereas bullshitting is altogether indifferent to truth. Bullshit brazenly defies the whole concept of truth.

If nothing else, On Bullshit will at least help you to recognize your own propensity to bullshit, and recognize it better in others. It may also help you to put the finger on the unsubtle disgust you may feel when you realize something has been passed off to you under the guise of bullshit.

Still one problem I have with the book trumps all: isn't there something kind of bullshitty about passing off an essay as a book? Happy reading.


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