On Bullshit and Inequality


Harry Frankfurt is a Princeton philosopher and the author of a 2005 essay entitled On Bullshit.  It presents a theory of bullshit that clearly defines the concept and analyzes its applications. Frankfurt emphasizes that Bullshit is neither true nor false.  Rather, a bullshitter’s aim in uttering or publishing bullshit is to impress the listener or achieve some other goal.  They seek to convey a certain impression without being concerned about whether anything at all is true or false. Bullshit is much different than lies.  A liar must know the truth and intentionally falsify facts.  Liars acknowledge that the truth matters.  Bullshit is thus a greater enemy of the truth than lies.

Next week, Harry Frankfurt’s new book On Inequality will be published.  In it, he argues that economic inequality is not immoral.  The false belief that equality is morally important leads people to focus too much on how their economic status compares to others.  This results in the “moral disorientation and shallowness of our time”.  Frankfurt believes poverty should be the moral focus – not people who have too much, rather people who don’t have enough.

Frankfurt explains that when a person evaluates his well-being (the resources he has at his disposal), the assessment should be personal, not relative.  A person desires to have enough resources to satisfy his needs and interests, enough to fulfill his goals and potential; the adequacy of those resources does not depend on the magnitude of the resources of others.  The fact that one person has something or is entitled to something, in and of itself, is no reason at all for another person to want the same thing or to feel entitled to the same thing.

Politicians are just bullshitting when they claim wealth inequality is the defining moral issue of our times.  It’s just not.  And even if it is for those envious, resentful types, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Our economic system is not going to change, unless there’s some kind of Bolshevik revolution (don’t hold your breath).  Your personal War Chest is enough.  It doesn’t matter how rich the rich are, as long as you have what you have.  And that’s no bullshit.


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