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“On Bullshit” by Harry Gordon Frankfurt

On Bullshit is a 2005 nonfiction bestseller by acclaimed American philosopher, Dr. Harry Gordon Frankfurt. A compact 67-page philosophical investigation, and emanating his distinguishable blend of philosophical acuity, wry humor, and psychological insight, Frankfurt sketches/develops a revolutionary theory of bullshit – defining the concept and analyzing its application, effect, and influence. On Bullshit is consistent with Frankfurt’s career focus/interest – how people think about themselves morally and intellectually as well as how ideals and values shape their lives. His fundamental premise evolves around the distinguishable difference between the liar and the bull-shitter. While the liar deliberately makes false claims and tries to conceal the truth, their need to know the truth is ubiquitous. The bull-shitter deliberately has no interest in or need for whatsoever in the truth no matter what the consequences. They are motivated solely by advancing their personal agenda. Frankfurt contends that bullshit is bullshit, be it true or false. Although they are not rejecters of the Truth, the bullshitter’s distinguishable quality is their absolute disregard for whether what they are saying corresponds to actual facts in the physical world. Most importantly, they are deliberately deceptive about their intent. They purposely misrepresent their intent.

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Frankfurt goes on to attest that bullshit has become an intrinsic component of mainstream culture because members of society have become so adept at it. The enormity and regularity of bullshit are the results of a correspondingly large discrepancy between a person’s actual knowledge and their opinion. Carefully wrought or contrived bullshit requires special tenacity, discipline, and objectivity. It is more or less art as opposed to lying which is a craft. Various aspects of society illustrate this premise especially public relations, advertising, and politics which serve as classic, indisputable paradigms of the theory. Most importantly, the difference lies in the bullshitter’s complete disregard for whether what they say corresponds to actual facts in the physical world. Frankfurt’s driving/conclusive argument is that fundamental argument is that the real enemy of Truth is not lies but bull shit. The underlying thematic core of the book stems from Frankfurt’s desire and respect for Truth which is an essential component of life and its variants (politics, business, etc.). People should care about being told the Truth and should speak Truth that is not just sincere but correct.

Freelance journalist Dan Neill’s (The Los Angeles Times) review comment on the book best accurately and succinctly summarizes my opinion on the subject. “Prize Bull… We are drowning in bullshit. I mean, the Bush administration has practically made it a Cabinet position.” It seems as if the entire world is drowning in it and it has become the premise from which it evolves/emanates. Frankfurt’s arguments are concise, sound, and worth consideration. On his argument that bullshit is a greater enemy to the truth than lies depends upon how he defines the difference between the two. As he deduces, the term bullshit infers that most people can instinctively tell that it is crap and thus has no validity. However, the main problem in the world regarding information for public consumption is deception- which goes beyond telling lies and bullshit. Deception is the ability to convince most people that a lie is the truth and/or that the truth is a lie- thus the lie [bullshit] becomes institutionalized. Glaring examples of institutionalized deception – Weapons of Mass Destruction, War on Terror, 911, so-called liberal democracy to name a few. The real cost lies/bullshit /institutionalized deception is mass-scale pillaging, death, and destruction which is certainly very much present in the world today. Hopefully, sincere individuals such as Frankfurt will continue to seek Truth, for Truth is the only weapon that can combat institutionalized deception.


Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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