Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can You Recognize Bullshit When You Encounter It?

Can you recognize bullshit when you encounter it? If you can, think again. According to Harry G. Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher and professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, we only have a vague understanding as to what constitutes bullshit. Thankfully, to help redress our imprecise understanding of bullshit, H. G. Frankfort has, with his penetrating analytical mind, provided us, in his work entitled On Bullshit, with a philosophical analysis of bullshit with the aim of devolping a theory or theoretical understanding of bullshit. Does Frankfort’s work smell of bull doody? I highly recommend that you read this small publication to determine the answer for yourself. It is a great read!

I have reproduced the first two paragraphs of On Bullshit below so that you may have a better understanding of the author’s intentions, as well as to (hopefully) whet your appetite for a deeper understanding and appreciation of bullshit.

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.

In consequence, 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, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis. I shall not consider the rhetorical uses and misuses of bullshit. My aim is simply to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not—or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate, more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept.(On Bullshit, pp. 1-2.)

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