I was wandering the stacks in the library, when I came upon the audio book for “On Truth” by Harry Frankfurt. Something about it caught my eye.
Frankfurt is a professor of philosophy at Princeton, and make no bones about it, this is a scholarly work. It is a followup to his book On Bullshit, which I read after the fact, and which probably ought to be the title book in this review, but I try not to cuss in headlines. Still, there is nothing foul about Frankfurt’s use of the word “bullshit.” He has a very erudite distinction that he makes between lying and bullshit, and posits that bullshit is more dangerous than lying. Lying at least acknowledges the truth in order to be its opposite. Bullshit, on the other hand, is indifferent to truth, it only cares about the agenda of its utterer. This, says Frankfurt, makes it much more nefarious, despite its commonness.
“On Truth” is a follow up to “On Bullshit” because, he found out after reading comments and reviews of “On Bullshit” he was astounded to learn that there being some value in the truth didn’t go without saying. He just assumed everyone thought truth was important. But they didn’t, and so he wrote another piece to argue why.
In a political cycle in which everyone on all sides is accused of lying, spinning, or bullshitting, it is a useful intellectual exercise to understand the difference and the effect that they have on our understanding of the world and the people in it. These books were written years ago, but are probably more universally relevant now than they were when written.
Really, calling them books might be a bit of exaggeration, if not outright bullshit. (Ha ha.) Although they are bound volumes with covers and a title page and all the things that make it meet the technical definition of books, they are very short and meant to be read at more or less one sitting. They are long essays, bound individually. Definitely worth reading, and all the more readable because you don’t get bogged down in hundreds of pages of philosophy.
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