20 February 2010
What is Bullshit?
“That is just bullshit!” This is a phrase that has been told and heard by people numerous times a day for many generations. Some can say that it can be said as a person’s opinion of how they view something. Others may say that it can be told to describe something that is unappreciated. Or, it may even be used to be abusive or misleading in the sense that appeals to emotions. However it may be brought out, a lot of people do not question or give a thought as to what the concept of “bullshit” really is and how it has been revolving around culture and society to this very day. For this reasoning, in the text On Bullshit, the author Harry G. Frankfurt tries to seek the truth behind what “bullshit” is and how it is affecting people everyday as time goes by. In On Bullshit, using a first-person narrative style of writing associating with various resources of context to express personal views, morals, and humor, Frankfurt is able to say that there is so much “bullshit” in our culture, everyone knows it, and contributes to the final outcome (Frankfurt 1). In so to speak, Frankfurt is bringing out the vision that everyone has an input to the massive frenzy of “bullshit” in someway or another leading his audience to become every person in the whole world universally.
Harry G. Frankfurt is a professor emeritus of philosophy at the Princeton University who previously taught at Yale and Rockefeller University (wikipedia.com). Using his own knowledge and personal views, Frankfurt also uses credible written works from different authors including those from Wittgenstein, Pound, St. Augustine, and Eric Ambler in On Bullshit, to serve as his resources to uncover the different aspects of ideas that focus on what “bullshit” is. In Frankfurt’s writing, he does not aim to tell his story to a certain person or group of people. He writes as if he is talking to the whole world globally. The audience of his writing in this book is simply intended for just about anyone who may come to find it. In doing so, he gives the reader the sense that what they read about in his text logically begins to make sense in what they may deal with in everyday matter and life.
Throughout the book, Frankfurt narrates the story in first-person narration giving away his own personal views. In doing so, he is able to creatively catch the reader’s attention by directly speaking to them. This does not only get a hold of the reader’s attention of being aware and alert but also builds the feelings of actually thinking about what he is saying to be realistic and making sense. In using the style of first-person narrative, Frankfurt is also able to add in his own personal thoughts and questions that carry on throughout the text. For example, in the beginning of the text, he talks about how “bullshit” is not just a word, but it has a wide variety of meanings and ideas associated with it. He talked about how it may be a word to abuse something or how it also may be used to describe about how something is. This sets the tone to provoke the reader’s mind to think deeply. This can be said because when a person really thinks about what Frankfurt is saying, they can begin to wonder that what Frankfurt is saying is actually believable and could be true. Also, Frankfurt addresses out questions and thoughts from his own mind by doing this.
Frankfurt uses his resources of different context to also stir up some emotional appeals to the reader. For example, to prove the point that “bullshit” is not only used as a word of abuse, Frankfurt says that it is also used for “trivial, insincere, or untruthful talk or writing nonsense” (Frankfurt 41). To establish his findings to be true in this statement, Frankfurt talked about lying and how a person’s feelings of guilt may cause them to talk “bullshit.” When a person in this case may be talking “bullshit” everything that they say may not even be true at all according to Frankfurt. Telling the truth and being dishonest are ideas of moral aspects of what the reader may feel to be right or wrong. The matter of truthfulness and falseness is something that has also been in existence from the past in the reader’s world and will be present for many generations to come. Thus, the emotional appeals are being met with the audience about the idea of “bullshit” because Frankfurt tries to have the reader emotionally imagine and wonder if “bullshit” things being said, are morally truthful or not. In other words, it relates to the readers’ ethical judgments of whether or not something said “bullshit” may be as serious as lying or not.
In another resource that Frankfurt uses, he brings out humor in his writing to validate a point of how “bullshit” may be used without someone even acknowledging that they are using it. It is expressed to the reader when Frankfurt talked about an anecdote in Wittgenstein: a Personal Memoir. The anecdote was about a woman at a hospital who had her tonsils out and said she was in so much pain that she felt like she was a dog who had been ran over (Frankfurt 24). Obviously, Frankfurt knows that the reader will be able to figure out that no human being will know how it feels like to be a dog that has been ran over. In such manner, the statement made by the women is said to have been a “bullshit” statement because it is just humorous and has no real justification of being true. However, since the woman was in such pain, she did not even realize that she had made a “bullshit” statement which is what Frankfurt wanted to express. Using this reference, Frankfurt talks about how the writer of this statement tries to differentiate the views of how a person in such pain may say that they are feeling like a run over dog, but actually may not know how the feeling of a run over dog may really feel. This captures the reader to actually feel what is being said is actually true to the fact that they may have also encountered such anecdote or matter themselves in their life at some point or another.
The concept of “bullshit” is seemingly found to be everywhere just as Frankfurt wanted to prove in On Bullshit. Frankfurt’s arguments are strongly affective to the audience because he is really able to capture the reader’s essence through his use of various sources letting him reveal personal opinions, ethical values, and humor to guide the reader to understand what “bullshit” really is. This really appeals to the audience’s mind of clarity and logic. It makes the reader realize what he is saying is believable and definitely indeed a part of human nature to be part of it. “Bullshit” is something that may or may not be seen as something serious as lying, yet it has been hidden and considered less blameful of dishonesty to truth because of lack of recognition and clear understanding to what it really is. Thus, “bullshit” is a major part of culture and society because it is seen and taken action of everyday in the world even if someone may not know they are part of it.
Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Print.
Unknown, . “Harry Frankfurt.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 27 Jan 2010.
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Web. 20 Feb 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Frankfurt>.