Friday, December 14, 2007

The Perfect Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for the perfect stocking stuffer for that intellectually-inclined friend or family member this year, search no more. Harry G. Frankfurt’s little book On Bullshit (Princeton University Press, 2005) is the perfect gift.

Frankfurt is Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Here’s a summary of the book:

In the essay, Frankfurt sketches a theory of bullshit, defining the concept and analyzing its applications. In particular, Frankfurt contrasts bullshitting and lying; where the liar deliberately makes false claims, the bullshitter is simply uninterested in the truth. Rather, bullshitters aim primarily to impress and persuade their audiences. Whereas the liar needs to know the truth the better to conceal it, the bullshitter, interested solely in advancing his own agenda, has no use for the truth. By virtue of this, Frankfurt claims, “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

But be forewarned: by the end of the book, you may be wondering who has been bullshitting whom.

Here’s the book’s delightful opening:

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his 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. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory.

Purchase a copy of the book on-line.

You can also read it in its entirety here.

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