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Old 03-03-2005, 09:42 AM   #1
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Bullshit!!!

Defining Bullshit
A philosophy professor says it's a process, not a product.
By Timothy Noah
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 4:37 PM PT


"We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production," observes Laura Penny, author of the forthcoming (and wittily titled) Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit. But what is bullshit, exactly? By which I mean: What are its defining characteristics? What is its Platonic essence? How does bullshit differ from such precursors as humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, bullpucky, and all the other adjectives favored by H.L. Mencken and his many imitators? The scholar who answers the question, "What is bullshit?" bids boldly to define the spirit of the present age.

Enter Harry G. Frankfurt. In the fall 1986 issue of Raritan, Frankfurt, a retired professor of philosophy at Princeton, took a whack at it in an essay titled "On Bullshit." Frankfurt reprinted the essay two years later in his book The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Last month he republished it a second time as a very small book. Frankfurt's conclusion, which I caught up with in its latest repackaging, is that bullshit is defined not so much by the end product as by the process by which it is created.

Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious the moment they are expressed. Although Frankfurt doesn't point this out, it immediately occurred to me upon closing his book that the word "bullshit" is both noun and verb, and that this duality distinguishes bullshit not only from the aforementioned Menckenesque antecedents, but also from its contemporary near-relative, horseshit. It is possible to bullshit somebody, but it is not possible to poppycock, or to twaddle, or to horseshit anyone. When we speak of bullshit, then, we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the bullshit into being: Somebody bullshitted. In this respect the word "bullshit" is identical to the word "lie," for when we speak of a lie we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the lie into being: Somebody lied.

Is "bullshit," then, a synonym for "lie"? Not exactly. Frankfurt asks us to consider an anecdote told about Ludwig Wittgenstein wherein the great philosopher phones a friend named Fania Pascal who's just had her tonsils removed. How are you, Wittgenstein asks. Like a dog that's been run over, Pascal answers. Wittgenstein then replies testily, "You don't know what a dog that has been run over feels like." In effect, Frankfurt argues, Wittgenstein is suggesting that Pascal is spouting bullshit. (A more reasonable person, Frankfurt concedes, would reach the charitable conclusion that Wittgenstein's friend is merely expressing herself through the use of allusive or at worst hyperbolic language.) Wittgenstein's grumpy outburst seems so absurd that very possibly the real bullshit here is the anecdote itself. But Frankfurt asks us to assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the anecdote is true and that Wittgenstein's objection is rational and sincere.

[...]

Both in lying and in telling the truth people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are. These guide them as they endeavor either to describe the world correctly or to describe it deceitfully. For this reason, telling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that bullshitting tends to. ...The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

Bullshit, Frankfurt notes, is an inevitable byproduct of 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." But politics is not a creation of the modern era; it's been around for centuries.

Why should bullshit be so prevalent now?





so ... what is bullshit to you? do you bullshit? how? tell me about your bullshitting, and maybe some examples of your favorite moments of either bullshitting or being bullshitted to?
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:51 AM   #2
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A bullshit story (literally):

A bull once let a steaming pile go on my uncle's shoe. Fact. I realise this isn't the kind of bullshit you meant, but thought I'd mention it regardless, for the sake of adding a reply to the thread.
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:55 AM   #3
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It's a really fun card game.
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:55 AM   #4
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yes ... i mean for this to be humorous ... seems we're all frozen for response ...
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:58 AM   #5
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bullshit is what you do when you have a huge pointless paper that is due the next day that you don't care about and haven't even started
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Old 03-03-2005, 09:59 AM   #6
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One of my friends did their PhD on the origin and various uses of the word 'fuck' in modern European languages. Seriously.
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Old 03-03-2005, 10:03 AM   #7
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Old 03-03-2005, 06:27 PM   #8
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Hi!

Sounds like my realtor.....................wow....can they throw the BS around.......although they make a hefty commission for doing nothing......they don't even try selling your house......all they do is ride people around in their high priced fancy cars and your house is just on the tour.............."sales" I don't think they know what it means to sell something.............so they are on the top of my BSers list.

carol
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