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.
Once solely the province of ivory-tower professors and college classrooms, contemporary philosophy was finally emancipated from its academic closet in 2010, when The Stone was launched in The New York Times. First appearing as an online series, the column quickly attracted millions of readers through its accessible examination of universal topics like the nature of science, consciousness and morality, while also probing more contemporary issues such as the morality of drones, gun control and the gender divide.
Now collected for the first time in this handsomely designed volume, The Stone Reader presents 133 meaningful and influential essays from the series, placing nearly the entirety of modern philosophical discourse at a reader’s grasp. The book, divided into four broad sections—Philosophy, Science, Religion and Morals, and Society—opens with a series of questions about the scope, history and identity of philosophy: What are the practical uses of philosophy? Does the discipline, begun in the West in ancient Greece with Socrates, favor men and exclude women? Does the history and study of philosophy betray a racial bias against non-white thinkers, or geographical bias toward the West?
These questions and others form a foundation for readers as the book moves to the second section, Science, where some of our most urgent contemporary philosophical debates are taking place. Will artificial intelligence compromise our morality? Does neuroscience undermine our free will? Is there is a legitimate place for the humanities in a world where science and technology appear to rule? Should the evidence for global warming change the way we live, or die?
In the book’s third section, Religion and Morals, we find philosophy where it is often at its best, sharpest and most disturbing—working through the arguments provoked by competing moral theories in the face of real-life issues and rigorously addressing familiar ethical dilemmas in a new light. Can we have a true moral life without belief in God? What are the dangers of moral relativism?
In its final part, Society, The Stone Reader returns to its origins as a forum to encourage philosophers who are willing to engage closely, critically and analytically with the affairs of the day, including economic inequality, technology and racial discrimination. In directly confronting events like the September 11 attacks, the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Sandy Hook School massacre, the essays here reveal the power of philosophy to help shape our viewpoints on nearly every issue we face today.
With an introduction by Peter Catapano that details the column’s founding and distinct editorial process at The New York Times, and prefatory notes to each section by Simon Critchley, The Stone Reader promises to become not only an intellectual landmark but also a confirmation that philosophy is, indeed, for everyone.
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.
Montaigne Essays Thomas Paine Rights of Man R.G. Collingwood The Principles of Art Karl Popper The Open Society and Its Enemies Thomas Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
With a glossary and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter, this is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in philosophy.