Analytics Strategist

June 30, 2006

On Bullshit

Filed under: Business, Random Thoughts, reading — Tags: — Huayin Wang @ 3:55 pm

I read On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt some time ago. It was a Sunday afternoon, at a Borders bookstore, and I was attracted to it by the very first sentence of it:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bulklshit.”

The second sentence is “Everyone know this.”

The book then tours me with its interesting mix of academic and satire style prose. The apparent seriousness has an undertone of absurdism.

A few pages from the back:

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than 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 — to 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, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.”

“The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.”

So what’s the philosophical arguement he made in the book? Ask and you lost it.

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1 Comment »

  1. I have since read a few more related books:

    Your call is important to us : the truth about bullshit
    Why business people speak like idiots : a bullfighter’s guide
    House of Lies

    no good.

    When I have time, I will read, The BS Syndrome, by Victor Salupo. It got some good comments.

    Comment by huayin — June 30, 2006 @ 4:13 pm


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