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Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Treatise Re A Barnyard Epithet

I'm still unsure if Harry G. Frankfurt is putting readers on or trying to make a serious philosophical case with his 2005 book "On Bullshit". If anyone has read it, I'm curious to hear your opinion. Either way, it was an educational read and a fun ride.

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit." How can anyone resist a book with that first sentence? Frankfurt's primary sources include the Oxford English Dictionary, Saint Augustine's "Lying" & a 1985 essay called "The Prevalence of Humbug" by Max Black. Each gives the author important and specific reference points to "...begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit..." For this Princeton Philosophy Professor, bullshit is not tantamount to lying. Near the end of his brief volume, after persuasively presenting distinctions between the two, he makes this claim: "...Bullshit is a greater enemy to the truth than lies are".

Along the way, Frankfurt cites an anecdote showing philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's disdain for imprecise language as well as quoting the poetry of Ezra Pound as he builds his case. Tongue-in-cheek, serious scholarship or something in between? You tell me. Whatever it is, how's this for a provocative ending? "Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial - notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. In so far as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit".          

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