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35290Re: [existlist] Harry G. Frankfurt: Bull?

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  • George Walton
    Jul 3, 2005
      From Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit

      "The contemporary proliferation of bullshit...has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These "antirealist" doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective reality. One response to the loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his
      own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

      "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 resistent 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."

      Which I suppose means no one can suggest Frankfurt is actually being sincere about this, right?

      Unless of course the above is merely an exercise in irony. Or perhaps it's yet another manifestation of malarkey.

      My own reaction is that Frankfurt has more or less hit the bullseye here because the bullseye is embedded in the inherently problematic nature of having a point of view about it at all.

      In other words, instead of aiming the discussion at what is said to be or not to be bullshit [free will, situational ethics, pragmatism, idealism, critical rationalism, God, the Bush Administration etc] Frankfort seems to imply that those doing the aiming are, in turn, mere fonts of bullshit themselves. And if how we come to understand our own self is ultimately seen to be bullshit how could any perspective emanating from this profoundly problematic font not necessarily be bullshit as well? Then we only have to figure out how to juxtapose this point of view with the necessary assumption it cannot help but be bullshit too. Then we come face to face once again with the seeming intractable impediment of language itself in the attempts made to "resolve" it once and for all.

      Philosophically, perhaps, it is not whether you are being sincere that is the starting point.....but "who" "you" "are" when insisting this is so. Human identity as a kind of quantum mechanics. I may be sincere in believing this point of view is correct. But there is no way I can know it reflects what is true. The observation and the observer are always intricately intertwined in the seeming mystery of the entanglement itself.

      Thus how we think about ourselves can only be understood in relationship to all of the countless countervailing variables that came together over the years to create this particular point of view. In other words, who really knows what to expect when they turn the next corner. Even in reading this post it might trigger in you a whole new way of looking at things. And once that happens the potential for yet more change in your "reality" can rapidly evolve into that proverbial snowball.

      Then it only becomes a question of deciding whether or not this is the good news or the bad. Not that either assumption can be seen as anything other then yet more bullshit, of course.

      So by all means: choose wisely.


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