Thursday, April 02, 2009

On Truth
On Bullshit

by Harry G. Frankfurt

These two tiny books are precious gems of practical philosophy. They're basically extended ruminations on the natures of their subjects — truth and bullshit, respectively — with an eye to how an understanding of either can be useful in navigating our lives, making judgments and decisions, negotiating relationships, analyzing and evaluating knowledge about how things are in the world*.

What good is truth? Why care about it? How do useful instances of truth (known facts) differ from the abstract idea of truth? How does bullshit (obfuscation and/or meaningless jibber-jabber) differ from an outright lie? What do they have in common? How does all this affect our quest for the reliable information we need to get through day-to-day life?

The author is a professor emeritus at Princeton University. I kind of want to buy these books, partly because they're so tiny and cute, but also because they're the kind of books you can re-read at different points in life and learn new things every time.

*I say "how things are in the world" instead of lower-case "reality" to avoid confusion with Reality, which can be made subject to hair-splitting, ennervating, and/or fatuous metaphysical speculations. I'm just talking about the reliable, easily agreed upon physical world.

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