Monday, January 14, 2019

That's a technical term

Columnist Roger Cohen directs us to what he calls a "seminal" essay by philosopher Harry Frankfurt entitled "On Bullshit." The essay was published in book form in 2005 to considerable acclaim.

Despite the frivolous sounding title, Frankfurt's essay was, in the words of Quinta Jurecic writing in the Lawfare blog, actually a serious treatment of "moral and epistemological philosophy."

Cohen referred to Jurecic's own essay, which was written a couple of months prior to Donald Trump's inauguration. Jurecic's essay is a significant work in its own right, and important.

You might think she and I are pulling your leg when I tell you her essay includes the sentence: "But Trump’s victory forces us to consider what it means for the president himself to be, as it were, full of bullshit." But we are not.

Jurecic is deadly serious, as was Frankfurt before her. And Lawfare is a serious venue that considers deep legal and constitutional matters.

Whereas Frankfurt wrote years before Trump's ascendancy, Jurecic's piece was written after Trump's election. She wonders how a "bullshit" (according to Frankfurt's meaning) president-elect can possibly situate his presidency inside a framework that understands the law as "a highly systematized structure of meaning used to evaluate the merit and relevance of facts and arguments," and to render consequential rulings based on them. It's an important question when you consider that neither facts, nor meaning derived from them, figure prominently in Trump's own epistemology.

And how he can "take care" that the laws be "faithfully executed," as the Constitution requires?

"Is it actually possible for a bullshitter to 'take care' or to act 'faithfully' in the execution of the law?" Jurecic wonders.

Treat yourself to some serious reflection by reading and pondering Jurecic's essay.

Copyright (C) 2019 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

The latest from Does It Hurt To Think? is here.


At Fri Jan 18, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Bert Haverkate-Ens said...

I couldn’t agree more as to the distinction between lying and bullshit. For a complementary take, I strongly recommend the ‘On the media’ podcast ‘Everything is fake’ (January 11, 2019). Whether people are unwilling to think or unable to distinguish fact from fiction, the consequences may well be the same. Between the evident effectiveness of salesmanship untethered to truth (bullshit), an unwitting media (or propaganda organs masquerading as media), and social media manipulation, the way has been paved for a demagogue to come. A politician less clownish and more ‘Presidential’ than Trump might even more effectively use these pieces and then add one more – the setting aside of the rule of law. At that point, oligarchy will have finally replaced democracy. I hope to be wrong.


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