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Her way of understanding or of misunderstanding his remark was very likely not altogether discordant, then, with her sense of what he was like. Then just what is it that the Wittgenstein in her report considers to be objectionable? Let us assume that he is correct about the facts: that is, Pascal really does not know how run-over dogs feel.

For more and more people, work appears to serve no purpose. Is there any good left in the grind?

Even so, when she says what she does, she is plainly not lying. She would have been lying if, when she made her statement, she was aware that she actually felt quite good. For however little she knows about the lives of dogs, it must certainly be clear to Pascal that when dogs are run over they do not feel good. So if she herself had in fact been feeling good, it would have been a lie to assert that she felt like a run-over dog.

Calling Bullshit.

Of course, the phrase is far from being complete nonsense to her; she is hardly speaking gibberish. What she says has an intelligible connotation, which she certainly understands. Moreover, she does know something about the quality of the feeling to which the phrase refers: she knows at least that it is an undesirable and unenjoyable feeling, a bad feeling. The trouble with her statement is that it purports to convey something more than simply that she feels bad. Her characterization of her feeling is too specific; it is excessively particular.


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Hers is not just any bad feeling but, according to her account, the distinctive kind of bad feeling that a dog has when it is run over. It does so, I believe, because he perceives what Pascal says as being — roughly speaking, for now — unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. She does not even think she knows, except in the vaguest way, how a run-over dog feels. Her description of her own feeling is, accordingly, something that she is merely making up.

She concocts it out of whole cloth; or, if she got it from someone else, she is repeating it quite mindlessly and without any regard for how things really are. What disgusts him is that Pascal is not even concerned whether her statement is correct. Be this as it may, it seems clear what that reaction is. He reacts as though he perceives her to be speaking about her feeling thoughtlessly, without conscientious attention to the relevant facts.

The point that troubles Wittgenstein is manifestly not that Pascal has made a mistake in her description of how she feels.

Nor is it even that she has made a careless mistake. Her laxity, or her lack of care, is not a matter of having permitted an error to slip into her speech on account of some inadvertent or momentarily negligent lapse in the attention she was devoting to getting things right. The point is rather that, so far as Wittgenstein can see, Pascal offers a description of a certain state of affairs without genuinely submitting to the constraints which the endeavor to provide an accurate representation of reality imposes.

Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying. This is important to Wittgenstein because, whether justifiably or not, he takes what she says seriously, as a statement purporting to give an informative description of the way she feels. He construes her as engaged in an activity to which the distinction between what is true and what is false is crucial, and yet as taking no interest in whether what she says is true or false. That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true.

It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit. Now I shall consider quite selectively certain items in the Oxford English Dictionary that are pertinent to clarifying the nature of bullshit.

For one thing, the dictionary evidently supposes that the use of the term bull in bull session serves primarily just to indicate gender. But even if it were true that the participants in bull sessions are generally or typically males, the assertion that a bull session is essentially nothing more particular than an informal discussion among males would be as far off the mark as the parallel assertion that a hen session is simply an informal conversation among females.

It is probably true that the participants in hen sessions must be females. Nonetheless the term hen session conveys something more specific than this concerning the particular kind of informal conversation among females to which hen sessions are characteristically devoted.

The characteristic topics of a bull session have to do with very personal and emotion-laden aspects of life — for instance, religion, politics, or sex. People are generally reluctant to speak altogether openly about these topics if they expect that they might be taken too seriously. What tends to go on in a bull session is that the participants try out various thoughts and attitudes in order to see how it feels to hear themselves saying such things and in order to discover how others respond, without it being assumed that they are committed to what they say: It is understood by everyone in a bull session that the statements people make do not necessarily reveal what they really believe or how they really feel.

The main point is to make possible a high level of candor and an experimental or adventuresome approach to the subjects under discussion. Therefore provision is made for enjoying a certain irresponsibility, so that people will be encouraged to convey what is on their minds without too much anxiety that they will be held to it. Each of the contributors to a bull session relies, in other words, upon a general recognition that what he expresses or says is not to be understood as being what he means wholeheartedly or believes unequivocally to be true.

The purpose of the conversation is not to communicate beliefs. Accordingly, the usual assumptions about the connection between what people say and what they believe are suspended. The statements made in a bull session differ from bullshit in that there is no pretense that this connection is being sustained.

Harry G. Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” — A Review

They are like bullshit by virtue of the fact that they are in some degree unconstrained by a concern with truth. This resemblance between bull sessions and bullshit is suggested also by the term shooting the bull, which refers to the sort of conversation that characterizes bull sessions and in which the term shooting is very likely a cleaned-up rendition of shitting. The very term bull session is, indeed, quite probably a sanitized version of bullshit session.

Gleed, Arise to Conquer vi. Baron, Human Kind xxiv. Here the term bull evidently pertains to tasks that are pointless in that they have nothing much to do with the primary intent or justifying purpose of the enterprise which requires them. The term bull is also employed, in a rather more widespread and familiar usage, as a somewhat less coarse equivalent of bullshit.

The entry at hand also provides the following two definitions:. I Times Lit. It covers digressions and innocent irrelevancies, which are not invariably instances of bull; furthermore, saying that bull is not to the purpose leaves it uncertain what purpose is meant. It is mere vapor. His speech is empty, without substance or content. His use of language, accordingly, does not contribute to the purpose it purports to serve.

No more information is communicated than if the speaker had merely exhaled. There are similarities between hot air and excrement, incidentally, which make hot air seem an especially suitable equivalent for bullshit. Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative content, so excrement is matter from which everything nutritive has been removed. Excrement may be regarded as the corpse of nourishment, what remains when the vital elements in food have been exhausted.

In this respect, excrement is a representation of death which we ourselves produce and which, indeed, we cannot help producing in the very process of maintaining our lives. Perhaps it is for making death so intimate that we find excrement so repulsive. In any event, it cannot serve the purposes of sustenance, any more than hot air can serve those of cummunication. Wot are the books ov the bible? This is a call for the facts. The person addressed is evidently regarded as having in some way claimed to know the Bible, or as having claimed to care about it.

Similar books and articles

The speaker suspects that this is just empty talk, and demands that the claim be supported with facts. He will not accept a mere report; he insists upon seeing the thing itself. In other words, he is calling the bluff. The connection between bullshit and bluff is affirmed explicitly in the definition with which the lines by Pound are associated:. It does seem that bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter?

Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false.

Young men score highest on “bullshit calculator”

Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect apart from authenticity itself inferior to the real thing.

What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. Although I was only seven when my father was killed, I still remember him very well and some of the things he used to say.

This presumes not only that there is an important difference between lying and bullshitting, but that the latter is preferable to the former. Now the elder Simpson surely did not consider bullshitting morally superior to lying. Nor is it likely that he regarded lies as invariably less effective than bullshit in accomplishing the purposes for which either of them might be employed. After all, an intelligently crafted lie may do its work with unqualified success. It may be that Simpson thought it easier to get away with bullshitting than with lying. Or perhaps he meant that, although the risk of being caught is about the same in each case, the consequences of being caught are generally less severe for the bullshitter than for the liar.

In fact, people do tend to be more tolerant of bullshit than of lies, perhaps because we are less inclined to take the former as a personal affront. We may seek to distance ourselves from bullshit, but we are more likely to turn away from it with an impatient or irritated shrug than with the sense of violation or outrage that lies often inspire. The problem of understanding why our attitude toward bullshit is generally more benign than our attitude toward lying is an important one, which I shall leave as an exercise for the reader.

The pertinent comparison is not, however, between telling a lie and producing some particular instance of bullshit. This is a key, perhaps, to his preference. Bullshit is also the solid waste material from Bos taurus cattle of the male gender. It is not nice to step in, but makes good fertilizer. It is often compared to money in that it can be beneficial to spread it thinly over a large area, but highly toxic not to mention disgusting when too much is concentrated in one place.

This usage differs from the metaphorical usage discussed above in that metaphorical bullshit, while toxic in high concentrations, is toxic in low concentrations as well. Genuine bovine bullshit figures prominently as an ingredient, reagent, and fuel in Ayurvedic medicine as well. Polite euphemisms for bullshit, in the literal or figurative sense, include "bovine feces", "bovine excrement", "bovine scat" and "bovine stool", the last two of which even preserves the initials.

It is also used in third world countries as a cheap source of fuel for fires. It's necessary that it be made extremely dry by laying it out in the sun. In Rwanda dried cow dung presumably from either gender of cattle is used in the traditional art form of imigongo. During the Rwandan Genocide the art form was nearly lost. Fighting pseudoscience isn't free. Jump to: navigation , search. See the main article on this topic: Scientific method. See the main article on this topic: Alternative Medicine Education.

For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about shit. For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Bullshit. Mike the Mad Biologist made note of an "asymmetric advantage of bullshit" in , while an Italian blogger also postulated the so-called " teoria della montagna di merda " — which in turn sounds very similar to Bullshit Mountain. Brandolini considers it a corollary of the contributions of Daniel Kahneman.

Categories : Bronze-level articles Logic Articles with funspace counterparts Fallacies Fallacious argument styles Shit articles. Namespaces Page Talk. Views Read Edit Fossil record. Support Donate. Community Saloon bar To do list What is going on? Social media Twitter Facebook Discord Reddit. This page was last modified on 12 September , at Unless explicitly noted otherwise, all content licensed as indicated by RationalWiki:Copyrights. Part of the series on Logic and rhetoric.

Key articles. I wanted answers. I made phone calls and wrote abusive emails. All to no avail. I should have known better. Anyone working in a public institution governed by bureaucratic systems underpinned by technological paranoia should be aware that when you send an email to a person of seniority, you are actually having a one-way conversation. I could hardly believe that I had been snubbed a second time.

Professor Foley, meanwhile, did not seem to, well, give a fuck. That week, he roused another group of young students at our university, the poor but occasionally happy Victoria University, with a series of remarkable lectures on Aboriginal political activism. At the end of the working week he again sat down with the said Foley spritzer. I went back to my computer, shooting off even more gobsmacked sentences to the evil tertiary empire that is the University of Melbourne. Yes, it remains a thing. Each staff member of the University of Melbourne as opposed to simply an ordinary university somewhere in Melbourne that I had written to responded to me, which I must commend, as I had suggested they fuck off.