Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Bullshit

Book recommendation-

On Bullshit
Harry G. Frankfurt

Interview with the author

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.

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