On Bullshit

Here are my notes from the book "On Bullshit" written by Harry G. Frankfurt:

  • p22 The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who - with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of psychological testing, and so forth - dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.
  • p33 Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth - this indifference to how things really are - that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
  • p43 Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative content, so excrement is matter from which everything nutritive has been removed. Excrement may be regarded as he corpse of nourishment, what remains when the vital elements in food have been exhausted. In this respect, excrement is a representation of death that we ourselves produce and that, indeed, we cannot help producing in the very process of maintaining our lives. Perhaps it is for making death so intimate that we find excrement so repulsive. In any event, it cannot serve the purposes of sustenance, any more than hot air can serve those of communication.
  • p56 His eye is not on facts at all, as the eye of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he say. 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.
  • 61 He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does; and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
  • p62 Why is there so much bullshit? Of course it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays the at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased.
  • p63 Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever person's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled - whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others - speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, ...

Good essay, well written, nice bullshitting, would be a great blog post or even introduction to a whole book, but I'm not really convinced that it's worth $9.95. But all in all I've enjoyed reading it.

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