On Bullshit

by Harry on May 16, 2005

After featuring on 60 minutes last night, On Bullshit climbed from #21 (when I checked at the start of the segment) in the Amazon charts to #3 (when I checked 5 minutes ago). I have no idea what this means in terms of numbers, but the commissioning editor must be feeling pretty smug. As must Harry Frankfurt, I’d guess.



cckey 05.16.05 at 7:43 am

a bump from parents giving the book as a graduation present?


Michael Turner 05.16.05 at 8:36 am

Save yourself the money and the shipping delays — you can get it free, now, courtesy of Google and the Wayback Machine:


I’m not bullshitting you. I’m sincere. OK, OK – even sincerity is bullshit, according to this guy, so here’s my money-back guarantee: the above-linked page is a *version* of the (now book-length) essay. It may or may not contain more bullshit than the original. And the above is not necessarily the original either – it’s the latest link that worked (for me) in the Wayback Machine.

I’m trying really hard to tell the truth here. And it’s making me realize how hard that is. Maybe Frankfurt’s closing comment is right: sincerity is bullshit. And that makes irony more honest, doesn’t it? Works for me. And for Frankfurt, too, come to think of it: how ironic that his bullshit essay has become far more popular now that he’s trying to charge people for it.

Well, OK, my attempt at righteous indignation is bullshit. I will admit this much: if you buy the book, you get the essay in a form that’s easier to read, and, because it can sit in front of you in a cafe, it’s more likely to start conversations with members of the gender to which you happen to be attracted. Those can be features worth paying for.


Jeremy Osner 05.16.05 at 9:05 am

And not yet published but already working its way up the Amazon charts (#76 today — perhaps on the strength of referrals from “On Bullshit”?) is Laura Penny’s Your Call Is Important to Us : The Truth About Bullshit


Lisa Williams 05.16.05 at 9:38 am

I read it a few weeks ago and liked it a lot. It really hits on a lot of what bothers me about the current political atmosphere in the US: the people pushing an agenda don’t know and don’t care what the facts are, and are basically unembarrassable.

Presenting a bullshitter with the facts does no good. Showing them their behavior is shameful does no good.

Given this, it’s hard to figure out what the future of political activism — which depends mostly on disseminating facts and calls for politicians to get in line with community values like not lying, stealing, and putting the country’s good over favoring your friends.

Bullshitters also have a lot in common with cult members. Bullshit is like a force field: facts just bounce off. Bullshitters can form a completely self-satisfied and self-referential worldview that no new information can disrupt.


Kosh 05.16.05 at 9:42 am

Combat bullshit with counter bullshit! Make an equally outrageous counter assertion based on the same logical flaw as the bullshitter’s assertion. They then can’t expose your fallacious reasoning without exposing their own. If nothing else it mocks them and really pisses them off.


Cryptic Ned 05.16.05 at 10:43 am

What is a “commissioning editor”? Ordinarily I would assume that it was an editor who commissioned a book, but this book was written decades ago. ?


ken 05.16.05 at 10:46 am

You won’t believe this. We were supposed to have Harry on Philosophy Talk, discussing his book/essay Bullshit. But because our host station is being hauled before the FCC in June on an unrelated matter, we were asked not to do it.

It’s a chilling climate out there in medialand for everything except bullshit, unfortunately.


Dave Gwydion 05.16.05 at 12:21 pm

The Commissioning Editor was a Canadian chap called Ian Malcolm. He’s much the best philosophy and political theory editor in the business.


mikez 05.16.05 at 1:23 pm

I’m indifferent on the merits of this book, but I liked the fact that 60 minutes turned to John Stewart as an expert on Media B.S.


Dave Wheeler 05.16.05 at 1:41 pm

As I watched the 60 minutes segment, I couldn’t help thinking about the joke, “There must be a pony in here”. (Full joke on my blog, http://www.theshot92.blogspot.com).


Keith 05.16.05 at 2:37 pm

Jon Stweart could easily write a book on Bullshit that is actually inciteful and worth reading, unlike this POS. Or perhaps the book is an object lesson and I’ve simply missed th epoint?


Cryptic Ned 05.16.05 at 2:57 pm

What the book is, Keith, is a philosophical lecture, delivered by a philosopher to a conference of other philosophers twenty years ago; published with a group of the philosopher’s essays; and recently published again as a small book. It’s not intended to be “inciteful and worth reading”, unless you find it funny, or you’re a philosopher.


abb1 05.17.05 at 3:49 am

Review of “On Bullshit” by John Dolan: Post-Bullshitist Bullshit. Enjoy.


Paul 05.17.05 at 9:12 am

But as we know, Frankfurt’s not concerned about his relative position. He just wants his book to be bought by enough people.


Down and Out In Saigon 05.18.05 at 5:22 am

So what is the relation between the book itself, and the Wayback Machine link supplied by Michael Turner? If they’re the same thing, then John Dolan is right on the money: it’s bad. The author engages in a long, meandering, monotonous, dreary conversation with himself, and then grouches about moral relativism. It’s not even academic. I mean: where are the footnotes and references and whatnot?

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