Monday, February 14, 2005

A Princeton Philosopher's Unprintable Book Title

The New York Times > Books > A Princeton Philosopher's Unprintable Book Title: Harry G. Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house's distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers, including this one, would find unfit to print. The work is called "On Bullshit"...

... What is "bullshit", after all? Mr. Frankfurt points out it is neither fish nor fowl. Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth.

'It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,' Mr. Frankfurt writes. 'A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it.'

The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is 'getting away with what he says,' Mr. Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to [bull] 'does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it,' he writes. 'He pays no attention to it at all.'

And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any liar, because any culture and he means this culture rife with bullshit is one in danger of rejecting 'the possibility of knowing how things truly are.' It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal."

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