Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, 2005
Reviewed by J. Rocky Colavito
What's about the size of a Gideon Bible, is
titled with one of George Carlin's infamous "seven words," and
spent over 20 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list?
It's Frankfort's slim volume On Bullshit, and this little book
offers some of the most trenchant analysis of everyday phenomenon
that we've all experienced, whether through day-to-day contact or
varying levels of actual use. Frankfurt, an eminent philosophy
professor, approaches the subject with an eye on defining the term
and differentiating it from outright lying. The distinction lies in
bullshit's interest in "fakery" (i.e., a misrepresentation of the
idea, its situation, or its purveyor) as opposed to "falsity" (lies
for Frankfurt are characterized by deliberate falseness of the
content; the content of bullshit may, in fact, be true).
Frankfurt's little book raises many significant points about why
bullshit has become the norm rather than the exception, and
culminates with the observation that bullshit flourishes "whenever
circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is
talking about." His focus on metaphors of artistic production
versus mass production illuminate the mind set that produces
bullshit by reminding us that true art is just as concerned with
the quality of the means of producing the artifact, whereas
bullshit seems only concerned with the artifact itself.
Frankfurt gives us pause to consider our interaction with
everyday communication most eloquently. These are ideas that truly
matter, and that ain't no bull.
- J. Rocky Colavito is professor of English and Director of
Writing Programs at Butler University.