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. (shrink)
Bullshit is a widely recognized problem. While philosophy has given the topic some consideration, the analysis it offers is limited by an individualistic understanding of knowledge and epistemology. This article reframes bullshit as a problem of social epistemology, drawing on philosophical work on social epistemology as well as related research in psychology and the sociology of knowledge to explore the problem of epistemic vigilance. The article then draws on interactional sociology as well as Glaeser’s recent work on understanding and institutions (...) to delineate those social forces that undermine the task of epistemic vigilance. The article then examines several different types of bullshit in light of this tension between the individual pragmatic need to have true beliefs and the social pragmatic need to get along. (shrink)
Guided by the concept of bullshit, broadly defined as a deceptive form of rhetoric intended to distract and/or persuade, we examine how fabrications and false statements— when crafted and distributed by the president of the United States—impact not only foreign policy making and implementation but also erode democratic norms. Unconstrained by reality, and seemingly driven more by celebrity and showmanship than a genuine desire to govern, we argue that President Trump’s penchant for bullshit is part of a concerted strategy to (...) sideline critics while simultaneously undermining the ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government. (shrink)
This paper is about some of the ways in which people sometimes speak while be- ing indifferent toward what they say. We argue that what Harry Frankfurt called ‘bullshitting’ is a mode of speech marked by indifference toward inquiry, the coop- erative project of reaching truth in discourse. On this view bullshitting is character- ized by indifference toward the project of advancing inquiry by making progress on specific subinquiries, represented by so-called questions under discussion. This ac- count preserves (...) the central insight of Frankfurt’s influential analysis of bullshitting in seeing the characteristic of bullshitting as indifference toward truth and falsity. Yet we show that speaking with indifference toward truth is a wider phenomenon than the one Frankfurt identified. The account offered in this paper thereby agrees with various critics of Frankfurt who argue that bullshitting is compatible with not being indifferent toward the truth-value of one’s assertions. Further, we argue that, while bullshitting and lying are not mutually exclusive, most lies are not instances of bullshitting. The account thereby avoids the problem that Frankfurt’s view ulti- mately is insufficient to adequately distinguish bullshitting and lying. (shrink)
Playing the mystery card -- "But it fits!" -- Going nuclear -- Moving the semantic goalposts -- "But I just know!" -- Pseudo-profundity -- Piling up the anecdotes -- Pressing your buttons -- Conclusion -- The Tapescrew letters.
Some philosophers have argued that during the process of obtaining informed consent, physicians should try to nudge their patients towards consenting to the option the physician believes best, where a nudge is any influence that is expected to predictably alter a person’s behaviour without restricting her options. Some proponents of nudging even argue that it is a necessary and unavoidable part of securing informed consent. Here I argue that nudging is incompatible with obtaining informed consent. I assume informed consent requires (...) that a physician tells her patient the truth about her options and argue that nudging is incompatible with truth-telling. Instead, nudging satisfies Harry Frankfurt’s account of bullshit. (shrink)
Bullshit is not the only sort of deceptive talk. Spurious definitions are another important variety of bad reasoning. This paper will describe some of these problematic tactics, and show how Harry Frankfurt’s treatment of bullshit may be extended to analyze their underlying causes. Finally, I will deploy this new account of definition to assess whether Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit is itself legitimate.
This paper addresses the following three claims that Frankfurt makes about the concept of bullshit:1. Bullshit requires the intention to deceive others.2. Bullshit does not constitute lying.3. The essence of bullshit is lack of concern with the truth of what one says.I offer counterexamples to all three claims. By way of defending my counterexamples, I examine Cohen’s distinction between bullshiting and bullshit and argue that my examples are indeed cases of bullshiting that Frankfurt’s analysis is intended to cover. My examples (...) of bullshitters who are very concerned to say only things that are true show that Frankfurt is mistaken in claiming that the “essence” of bullshit is lack of concern with the truth of what one says. (shrink)
School bullying continues to plague students around the globe. Bullying research to date has largely employed empirical methodologies, including both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Using a philosophical lens, this paper seeks to better understand the intentionality of bullying by considering the satisfaction derived in the tears of another. Specifically, current bullying research takes seriously the notion that bullying is primarily a problem between a bully and a victim (i.e. that the bully does not like the victim). In this paper I (...) suggest that the bully is bullshitting us and her/his project is far bigger than the victim s/he targets. In the final analysis bullying prevention, as well as education itself, requires us to take seriously not only the activities of students, but the desires (i.e. the ?I likes?) that help us understand when we are being bullshitted and when we are not. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: This paper proposes a Habermasian analysis of bullshit which diverges from the well-known account offered by Harry Frankfurt. It aims to show that Habermas’s theory of communicative action provides superior conceptual tools for such an analysis, but also that the phenomenon of bullshit ought to be deeply troubling to Habermasians. Bullshit frustrates the transition to discourse, interrupts the binding force of communicative action and, if sufficiently widespread as to alter fundamental attitudes toward public speech, bullshit challenges the status of (...) Habermas’s theory of communicative action as a reconstruction of the intuitive knowledge of competent speakers, which status is intended to justify its claim to provide the normative foundations for a critical theory of society in the Frankfurt School sense of an immanent critique. RÉSUMÉ: Cet article propose une analyse «habermasienne» du fait de dire des conneries qui diffère de l’approche bien connue de Harry Frankfurt. Il y est question de démontrer que la théorie de l’agir communicationnel d’Habermas fournit de meilleurs outils conceptuels pour une telle analyse. Il sera également démontré que les partisans d’Habermas devraient être préoccupés par ce phénomène. Déconner perturbe la transition au discours; elle interrompt la force liante de l’agir communicationnel et, suffisamment répandu pour en altérer les attitudes fondamentales à l’égard du discours public, le déconnage met en question le statut de la théorie de l’agir communicationnel d’Habermas comme une reconstruction de la connaissance intuitive des locuteurs compétents. (shrink)
‘Fake news’ has become an increasingly common refrain in public discourse, though the term itself has several uses, at least one of which constitutes Frankfurtian bullshit. After examining what sorts of fake news appeals do and do not count as bullshit, I discuss strategies for overcoming our openness to such bullshit. I do so by drawing a parallel between openness to bullshit and naïve skepticism—one’s willingness to reject the concept of truth on unsupported or ill-considered grounds—and suggest that this parallel (...) indicates three principles for how we ought to combat our openness to fake news and other bullshit. First, the root causes of bullshit openness are not monolithic; we should adopt anti-bullshit strategies in recognition of this fact. Second, our efforts to overcome bullshit openness should be collaborative efforts to create an environment that allows for sustained interrogation of our bullshit openness, rather than a confrontational provision of contrary evidence, despite the fact that such strategies are more time-intensive. Third, social media is unlikely to be a fertile ground on which we will make meaningful progress in the fight against bullshit because of the inherent nature of social media platforms as spaces for short, declarative, confrontational claims. (shrink)
This article argues that bullshit is not an offense against truth but against reason. It maintains that bullshit occurs when speakers intentionally assert vague premises to make listeners accept their conclusions. This redefinition, I suggest, has consequences on the moral appraisal of bullshit.
The paper points to gaps in the conceptualization of bullshit as offered by Harry Frankfurt and Jerry Cohen. I argue that one type of bullshit, obscurantism, the deliberate exercise of making one’s text opaque for the purposes of deceiving the readership in various ways, escapes Frankfurt’s radar in tracking those judgments that are unconcerned with truth, and is not given distinct status in Cohen’s framework, which pays more attention to the product of bullshit than its producers and their techniques. First, (...) I offer on overview of the expanding literature on bullshit, with special attention given to accounts by Frankfurt and Cohen. I claim that Frankfurt’s essentialism and Cohen’s product-oriented account are not successful in exhausting our common understanding of what bullshit entails, neither separately, nor in conjunction. In particular, I claim that obscurantist bullshit pushes the envelope of the current conceptual frameworks. Second, following Boudry’s and Buekens’s work on obscurantism, I discuss the usual mechanisms utilized by obscurantists. Third, I reflect on an objection to my argument based on tweaking the permissibility for producing obscurantism by placing the production of obscurities into different contexts of writing style. I argue that there is an important normative difference between being an obscurantist and someone who merely writes obscurely, and that the distinction should bear weight regardless of constraining our capacities to tell between the two. I finish by discussing whether our understanding of obscurantist bullshit aids us in following a principle of clarity. (shrink)
According to Frankfurt’s analysis, bullshitting and lying necessarily differ in intention. I argue contra Frankfurt that (i) bullshitting can be lying, and that (ii) bullshitting need involve neither misrepresentation nor intention to deceive. My discussion suggests that bullshit is not capturable by a simple formula and that, although illuminating, Frankfurt’s analysis is limited to one paradigm.
It is fitting that The Daily Show had Harry Frankfurt as a guest: Frankfurt is the author of the popular “On Bullshit”, and one aim of The Daily Show, especially in its 1st and 2nd segments, is to call out bullshit as they see it. The assumption, both of the show and of its admirers, seems to be that identifying bullshit is always morally and politically significant (not to mention funny, but this aspect is not my focus). The aim of (...) this paper is to show that, although this assumption is substantially correct, the truth is rather more complicated. The reason is that bullshit can be defensible, even good. I will show this by attending more closely to bullshitting and the bullshitter than Frankfurt does. Frankfurt identifies lack of concern for the truth/falsity of one’s utterances as the hallmark of bullshit. I will show that even given this, it can be good. However, this defense pertains directly to speech contexts that aim at truth, such as educational contexts. Political speech is different. To determine whether the defense of bullshit transfers to political contexts, I will attend to the value and role of truth in political speech. I will argue that, due to the derivation of political authority from the individual autonomy of the governed in liberal democracies, political bullshit is very rarely justifiable. One upshot is that skills that are valuable in educational contexts turn out to be dangerous in political ones. Another is that The Daily Show turns out to have a valuable function protecting liberal democracy, insofar as it functions as an effective political bullshit detector. I will conclude with reflections on whether The Daily Show itself produces bullshit, and if so, whether it is problematic. (shrink)
Groups and other sorts of collective entities are frequently said to believe things. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for instance, was asked by reporters at White House press conferences whether the Trump administration ‘believes in climate change’ or ‘believes that slavery is wrong’. Similarly, it is said on the website of the Aclu of Illinois that the organization ‘firmly believes that rights should not be limited based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity’. A widespread philosophical view is that belief on (...) the part of a group’s members is neither necessary nor sufficient for group belief. In other words, groups are said to be able to believe that p even when not a single individual member of the group believes that p. In this paper, I challenge this view by focusing on two phenomena that have been entirely ignored in the literature: group lies and group bullshit. I show that when group belief is understood in terms of actions over which group members have voluntarily control, as is standardly thought, paradigmatic instances of a group lying or bullshitting end up counting as a group believing. Thus we need to look elsewhere for an adequate account of group belief. (shrink)
Harry Frankfurt characterised bullshit as assertions that are made without a concern for truth. Assertions, however, are not the only type of speech act that can be bullshit. Here, I propose the concept of argumentative bullshit and show how a speech acts account of bullshit assertions can be generalised to bullshit arguments. Argumentative bullshit, on this account, would be the production of an argument without a concern for the supporting relation between reasons and claim.
In this article I give a unified account of three phenomena: bullshit, pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy. My aims are partly conceptual, partly evaluative. Drawing on Harry Frankfurt's seminal analysis of bullshit, I give an account of the three phenomena and of how they are related, and I use this account to explain what is bad about all three. More specifically, I argue that what is defective about pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy is precisely that they are special cases of bullshit. Apart from raising (...) interesting philosophical issues, gaining a clearer understanding of these phenomena is also of practical importance, in that it bears on how best to tackle the threat that they pose. (shrink)
Although metaphysics has made an impressive comeback over the past half century, there are still a great many philosophers today who think it is bullshit, under numerous precisifications of ‘That’s just bullshit’ so that it’s a negative assessment and doesn’t apply to most philosophy (so it singles out metaphysics as particularly worse off than most other fields of philosophy). One encounters this attitude countless times in casual conversations, social media, and occasionally in print (e.g. Ladyman and Ross, 2007). Is it (...) true? (shrink)
Theodor W. Adorno’s Jargon of Authenticity is one of the bestknown, but also most controversial works of Critical Theory. Many philosophers, writers and editorialists have attacked the text in recent decades and accused Adorno of cultivating his own “jargon”. In his book, Adorno develops a critique of metaphysical and theological language, which he observed in Germany from the 1920s up to the 1960s. In my paper, I argue that the mode of critique Adorno deploys is still relevant today, even if (...) its object has largely disappeared. This becomes clear in comparison to the language criticism of the analytical tradition, namely logical empiricism or Harry G. Frankfurt’s critique of “bullshit,” which are comparably more widespread today in academic debates. While Adorno examines linguistic expressions in terms of their social content and places them in a historical constellation, the critique of “bullshit” following Frankfurt remains constrained to a personal approach. In the language criticism of logical empiricism, on the other hand, the possibility of understanding linguistic phenomena as expressions of social conditions is still present. From this comparison, much can be learned for an up-to-date language criticism. (shrink)
While lies have attracted philosophical attention since antiquity, phenomena in the near area have generated considerably less interest. Lately, however, Max Black and Harry Frankfurt have visited a close relative: humbug or bullshit, as it's either more politely or more rudely called. In this article their views on humbug and bullshit are exposed, explained, critiqued, and, ultimately, rejected. An alternative view is then proposed and defended.
> ‘The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor conceal it. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that is the essence of bullshit.’1 > —Harry Frankfurt In his paper, Nudging, informed consent, and bullshit, William (...) Simkulet accuses doctors of being bullshitters when they knowingly influence patient decision making through means other than argument and reasoning, that is, through ‘nudges.’ In these instances, he contends that they care little about patient understanding or communicating the truth about the options and, instead, care only about presenting alternatives in ways that cause patients to do what the physicians think they should do.2 However, doctors can intend to enhance patient understanding at the same time that they try to influence patients’ choices. Consider a physician who wants her patient to get a vaccine. …. (shrink)
Online bullshit consists in online claims offered by speakers misrepresenting themselves as being concerned about the truth or falsity of what they’re saying. I’ll argue that if some practice is epistemically detrimental, we have pro tanto reason to censor it; a practice of OB is epistemically detrimental; and we thereby have pro tanto reason to censor such a practice. After having considered, and rejected, the three most promising arguments to the effect that is either false, or the reasons involved tend (...) to be defeated, I defend, and finally conclude by inferring. (shrink)
This paper refines a number of theoretical distinctions relevant to deceptive play, in particular the difference between merely misleading actions and types of simulation commonly considered beyond the pale, such as diving. To do so, I rely on work in the philosophy of language about conversational convention and implicature, the distinction between lying and misleading, and their relation to concepts of seduction and bullshit. The paper works through a number of possible solutions to the question of what is wrong with (...) simulation and its difference from strategic fouling, including the argument that games and their rules operate like contracts. I conclude that the wrongness lies in the injustice of unfair advantage gained through actions that silence opposition by resort to unanswerable play. (shrink)
“Bullshit”, as Harry Frankfurt writes in his recent book, On Bullshit, is a communication that pretends to be genuinely informative, but really is not. The person who talks bullshit, Frankfurt holds, is unconcerned with whether what he says is true, but is very concerned with how he is thought of by the listener. In this paper, I discuss Frankfurt's theory of bullshit, making specific reference to the requirement for deceptive intent on the part of the bullshitter, and to whether (...) class='Hi'>bullshitting must involve conscious dishonesty. Some choice examples of bullshit are nosed and the question of whether Frankfurt really has it in for postmodernism is addressed. (shrink)