What is ‘bullshitting’ in the Harry Frankfurt sense?

David Rubie thinks I breached by own comments policy in saying:

Most critics of ‘neoliberalism’ are bullshitters in the Harry Frankfurt sense; ie not so much liars as people who just don’t care whether what they say is correct or not.

This was a reference to Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘On Bullshit’, which became a surprise bestseller a couple of years ago when Princeton University Press put it between hardcovers.

The term ‘bullshit’ is, in most contexts, mildly vulgar, but I think Frankfurt was right to use it because it picks up a shade of meaning lacking in some of the similar words we could use to describe the statements of people saying or writing untrue things. The Wikipedia entry gives its origins as:

“Bull”, meaning nonsense, dates from the 17th century (Concise Oxford Dictionary), whereas the term “bullshit” is popularly considered to have been first used in 1915, in American slang, and to have come into popular usage only during World War II. The word “bull” itself may have derived from the Old French boul meaning “fraud, deceit” (Oxford English Dictionary). The term “bullshit” is a near synonym.

The ‘bull’ is more important than the ‘shit’, because ‘nonsense’ is the idea being picked up in using the word ‘bull’ and carried across to ‘bullshit’. When we say someone is ‘bullshitting’ we might mean that they are telling lies, but it is more likely that we are saying that they are talking nonsense, which doesn’t require them to be consciously telling untruths.
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