In Michael Lynch’s book about Truth, which I mentioned back here, he mentions Harry Frankfurt’s paper “On Bullshit”. It has just been printed as a very short book. The paper was available on line here and elsewhere, but Frankfurt’s publisher – the Princeton University Press – has been asserting copyright. [Updated March 16/05; it was available when I wrote this post but taken down]. Frankfurt is going to be on The Daily Show. Blog news about that at Crooked Timber.
It’s a short paper – it would come to about 25 pages of a larger font, generously spaced, and it’s a nice piece of writing. It discusses truth and bullshit in ordinary talk, advertising, and politics. Bullshit is what we hear from people who don’t care about the truth. Liars care about the truth – they say things they know aren’t true. Bullshitters don’t care about the truth. It’s not that they are careless about their story – their presentation may be elaborate, beautiful, and even true in some measure. But the bullshitter isn’t trying to tell the truth. The bullshitter is a story-teller. Bullshitters believe in themselves, sincerely. They want you to listen to them and like them, and they want you to believe them. The problem is that their stories aren’t reliable.
It’s a nice piece of work, which has inspired a lot of thought.
[Update/addendum. In 2022, after the Donald Trump presidency had acquainted people with the term “fake news” as a synonym for bullshit, I read the article The Varieties of Bullshit by Peter Ludlow (who has published online under the name E.J. Spode).