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David Pinsof on bullshitters vs liars

I’ve found this distinction helpful in conversation recently – maybe you will too.

I am using bullshit in the same sense that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt uses it in his classic book On Bullshit*, which is a very lengthy, philosophical treatise on what it means to bullshit and how that is different from lying.

The way he thinks of it is that bullshit is a disregard for the truth. It’s when you talk without really knowing what you’re talking about or without really caring whether what you’re saying is true or not.

Bullshit is different from lying because a liar really knows they’re lying. They know what the truth is and they’re deliberately misrepresenting it.

But a bullshitter doesn’t necessarily know what’s true or care what’s true. Really, they’re only talking to achieve a goal, usually a social goal like enhancing their status or prestige or trying to win forgiveness or sympathy or any of a number of different things. And the key is that the goal is orthogonal to accuracy. That they’re going to say whatever they need to say to get what they want regardless of whether it’s true or not.

So a bullshitter could be telling the truth and in fact, sometimes bullshitters do tell the truth, but whenever they do tell the truth, it’s always by accident. It’s never on purpose. It’s never the goal of the communication…

David Pinsof – on the Infinite Loops podcast, ep. 161: Everything is Bullshit

Coda (from Wikipedia): On Bullshit is a 2005 book (originally a 1986 essay) by American philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt which presents a theory of bullshit that defines the concept and analyzes the applications of bullshit in the context of communication. Frankfurt determines that bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth.

See also:

David Pinsof on Social Paradoxes

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...