March 3, 2005

The essence of bullshit  

Slate has been great this week. Here's Timothy Noah on the nature of bullshit, taking Harry Frankfurt's (!) ideas for a little bit of a political spin. Frankfurt's insight is basically that bullshit is a process, a sort of mode of discourse that just doesn't have any regard for the truth. As such, some bullshitting can even be true -- it's just that the bullshitter doesn't really care.

I haven't read Frankfurt, but in this presentation he seems to be a little bit lacking -- where, for instance, does he account for fiction? I suppose he could group fiction in with lies if he thinks fiction writers are deliberate, or with truth if he thinks they're trying to transcend; but all this seems a little naive to me, and fiction sounds an awful lot like bullshit. And of course, not too many years ago, I argued vehemently against any notion of truth at all (these days the fight's gone out of me some), which would seem to be a requirement under Frankfurt's rubric. Does this mean I was bullshitting? Or maybe my starting point, paired with Frankfurt, just leads to the inevitable conclusion that everything is bullshit... which, of course, it is!

One other bullshit definition of mine from college: that it's not bullshit if you can pull it off. It's rather like Frankfurt, except that the relevant attitude is found in the reader/recipient rather than the originator. This pith always seemed to me to be the key operator in the humanities -- but please note that this never bothered me at all (about which please see the previous paragraph).

Diogenes  {March 15, 2005}

"I haven't read Frankfort"

Don't you think you should refrain from comment until you've done the minimal homework?


paul  {March 15, 2005}


Please note that I've updated the post to correct the spelling of Frankfurt.

Post a comment

Remember personal