Some questions prompted by Frankfurt's On Bullshit
In each case I expect you to explain your views on the subject raised by
the question, where appropriate to explain what Frankfurt's views are,
and what your own views are, and to be clear about the difference
between them. If I ask for his views, don't just give
me yours instead(!) - explain his views, and if appropriate, also give
your own. Make sure you stay "on topic" - your essay should address the
specific question asked. (Many of the essay questions are quite
similar, and so some similarity of answers would be expected, but don't
just prepare an essay and force it to fit the question you are asked -
be sure to address the specifics of the question.) I don't count words,
but make sure you do justice to the problem - and to the amount of marks
In his essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt says that "bullshit
is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are"; explain what he means by
this statement, and why he claims that it is true. Discuss his thesis.
Careful here: it is Frankfurt's opinions I am asking about, not yours!
Frankfurt also says: "The problem of understanding why our attitude
toward bullshit is generally more benign than our attitude toward lying
is an important one, which I shall leave as an exercise for the reader."
What "solution" to this problem do you imagine he might have had in
mind? Why is this an "important" problem? How would you "solve" it?
Be careful to distinguish your views from his - I am asking about both.
Also, be careful you understand the question: the "problem" mentioned
is not the problem of BS, but instead is the problem of
our tolerance of BS.
Finally, note that I am looking for "the solutions" (yours and
Frankfurt's) to this matter of tolerance (insofar as there may
be any solution!).
One could say that the distinction Harry Frankfurt makes between
bullshit and lying is based on the distinction between
process and product. Explain how Frankfurt
distinguishes bullshit from lying with particular reference to this
observation. How does this clarify why he might regard bullshit as
worse than lying?
Explain what "process" and "product" mean in this context, and how they
relate to the thesis of the book.
Nietzsche famously said: "There are no facts, only interpretations". In
contrast, in his essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt says: "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." It could be claimed that
this is one of the key points Frankfurt has in mind when he says
"bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are". Discuss this
N.B. Be careful about what this question is
asking: the claim to discuss is not whether bullshit is
a greater enemy of truth than lies are, but whether or not his remark
about sincerity, contrasted with Nietzsche's remark about facts, is one
of the key points Frankfurt has in mind. In the past many students
missed this distinction!
Contrast the view of truth which underlies Frankfurt's
argument that "bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are"
with the view of truth which underlies the following
statement of Nietzsche's: "There are no facts, only interpretations". Is
the distinction Frankfurt makes between bullshit and lying adequate for
this part of his argument?
This question is not exactly the same as the preceeding one, though they
are very closely related. Here, you are asked to compare the two views
of truth (from the two quotes) and their impact on Frankfurt's argument.
Frankfurt's essay was written in the mid 1980s for an audience of
academic philosophers, and was essentially an
argument against a view then popular in the social sciences.
But today it has a much wider relevance,
essentially to the very foundations of our society.
Explain the connection of these two matters, with a brief
description of how the one led to the other, and why this is now a
Be concise: this is not a 15 page IA paper! But give a clear account
of the issues involved, and a clear, but brief, indication of how the
academic concerns of the 1980s spread to today's widespread concerns,
with one or two examples "along the way". (You may refer to
"truthiness" if you deem it relevant.)
- Frankfurt quotes a character in a novel: "Never tell a lie when you
can bullshit your way through", which presumes not only that there is an
important difference between lying and bullshitting, but that the latter
is preferable to the former; Frankfurt evidently disagrees. Explain why
he disagrees, and why he thinks this important enough to write about.
What are your own views on the matter?
Make sure you distinguish your views from Frankfurt's in your answer.
There are two specific questions about his views; make sure you address
both. And ditto in discussing your own views.