Bullshit, Truth, and Reason
Received: 25 September 2017 /Revised: 7 May 2018 /Accepted: 22 May 2018
Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract This article argues that bullshit is not an offense against truth but against
reason. It maintains that bullshit occurs when speakers intentionally assert vague
premises to make listeners accept their conclusions. This redefinition, I suggest, has
consequences on the moral appraisal of bullshit.
Since the publication of Harry Frankfurt’s famous essay in 1986 and the subsequent
book in 2005, bullshit has been widely accepted as a legitimate philosophical concept.
Although most students still giggle when their professor uses the word in the class-
room, the net effect of Frankfurt’s effort is serious: bullshit is now understood and used
as a tool of analysis in humanities and social sciences.
Besides linguistic interest, the attention given to bullshit is also driven by distinct
moral concerns. Calling someone a bullshitter often implies a moral judgment. How-
ever, we consider the bullshitter less blameworthy than the liar, although bullshitting
still connotes a degree of moral culpability. But, is bullshitting a lesser evil than lying,
as some philosophers have suggested?
The primary focus of this article is the conceptual character of bullshit. How-
ever, I will also suggest that rethinking bullshit conceptually also requires a re-
evaluation of its moral economy.
The ultimate aim of this article is to contribute to the conceptual development and
normative analysis of bullshit. My goal is not only to describe in more detail what
people mean by the word ‘bullshit’ (although I will do that too). I will also attempt to
suggest how we should think of bullshit, both conceptually and morally. To do that I
* Eldar Sarajlic
City University of New York – Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City,