In this provocative book, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of On Bullshit presents a compelling and unsettling response to those who believe that the goal of social justice should be economic equality or less inequality. Harry Frankfurt, one of the most influential moral philosophers in the world, argues that we are morally obligated to eliminate poverty—not achieve equality or reduce inequality. Our focus should be on making sure everyone has a sufficient amount to live a decent life. To focus instead on inequality is distracting and alienating.
At the same time, Frankfurt argues that the conjunction of vast wealth and poverty is offensive. If we dedicate ourselves to making sure everyone has enough, we may reduce inequality as a side effect. But it’s essential to see that the ultimate goal of justice is to end poverty, not inequality.
A serious challenge to cherished beliefs on both the political left and right, On Inequality promises to have a profound impact on one of the great debates of our time.
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory."
Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.
Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Harry Frankfurt writes that it is through caring that we infuse the world with meaning. Caring provides us with stable ambitions and concerns; it shapes the framework of aims and interests within which we lead our lives. The most basic and essential question for a person to raise about the conduct of his or her life is not what he or she should care about but what, in fact, he or she cannot help caring about.
The most important form of caring, Frankfurt writes, is love, a nonvoluntary, disinterested concern for the flourishing of what is loved. Love is so important because meaningful practical reasoning must be grounded in ends that we do not seek only to attain other ends, and because it is in loving that we become bound to final ends desired for their own sakes.
Frankfurt argues that the purest form of love is self-love. This sounds perverse, but self-love--as distinct from self-indulgence--is at heart a disinterested concern for whatever it is that the person loves. The most elementary form of self-love is nothing more than the desire of a person to love. Insofar as this is true, self-love is simply a commitment to finding meaning in our lives.