Harry Frankfurt and his essay On Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt is a Princeton University philosophy professor who published an essay, On Bullshit, that eventually became a best selling book.

The essay begins:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

Then, Harry makes his contribution.

It was a hard slog and a few pages in I skipped to the final paragraph:

“But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial – notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.”

People say he makes good points. I wish I could figure out what they are.

If you have a Ph. D. in Philosophy, then this earns a Bullshit Free rating:


For the rest of us it gets a Some Bullshit rating because you cannot help getting the feeling that the author is just showing off and could have made most of his points with fewer shorter words.Review2