Rhetoric & Composition I Rotating Header Image

On Bullshit

image title “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his [or her] 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, or 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.” (p1) 

” … she is not concerned with the truth-value of what she says. That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: 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.” (p10) “The bullshitter is a man or a woman whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression favorable to the speaker, with no concern for the truth of what they’re saying. Likewise, the bullshitter is not concerned with consistency between what they’re saying at the moment, and anything they’ve previously said.

Consequently, the bullshitter is faking things, but that does not necessarily mean he gets them wrong. He simply doesn’t care. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie, while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to his or her agenda. Bullshit thus is a greater enemy of the truth than are lies.” (61)

From On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt. Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. <http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7929.html>