Following up on Eddy's post -- for those of you who missed the Daily Show tonight, and won't get a chance to watch the rerun -- here is a transcript of the interview with Harry Frankfurt. Good stuff. I'll post the first few lines here, and the rest will be below the fold.
Jon Stewart: My guest tonight – a professor of philosophy, emeritus at Princeton University, his new book is called On Bullshit. Please welcome to the program, Professor Harry Frankfurt. Professor, thanks for coming! Thank you so much for being here. I have to say – I got your book, and let me say – it was delicious. I ate ten of them. It’s tiny! This is really an essay that you wrote.
Harry Frankfurt: That’s exactly right – unchanged.
J: When did you write it?
J: Don’t bullshit me.
H: No…well…’85 and a half?
J: Now, tell us how it came to be released as a book…only recently, no?
H: Yeah, in January. My editor at the Princeton University Press got the idea of publishing it as a book. And when he brought it up I said, “What are you talking about? It’s a 25 page essay, how can you bring it out as a book?” He said, “Well we can do lots with margins, and types of fonts, and page sizes…and that’s what they did.”
J: Really? That’s lovely. [Flips through book.] Boy he’s not kidding around here. They’re like little affirmations. It’s really interesting and very apropos for today. In it, you sort of ...try and delineate the difference between bullshit and humbug….or lying. You say bullshit is not lying.
H: No, it’s not lying. Lying consists in believing that you know the truth, and saying something else.
J: It’s willful.
H: It’s willful. And the bullshitter doesn’t really care whether what he says is true or false. [Audience laughs]
J: I should warn you that when they hear the word…it tickles them. They love the word.
H: I know. Espeically coming from an Ivy League Professor. There’s something special about that, I know.
J: For me, it’s really…it almost classes me up.
H: I’m glad I could help.
J: Thank you. Which do you think is more corrosive to society – the lie, or bullshit?
H: Well, I claim that bullshit is a more insidious threat to society, because it undermines respect for the truth. And it manifests a lack of concern for the truth, it therefore undermines our commitment to the importance of truth. The liar is concerned for the truth…he just doesn’t want it. He is taking care to avoid it.
J: But he has to know it…to be able to lie, you need to know what the truth is, to go the other direction.
H: Or at least you have to think you know what it is, right.
J: But the bullshitter…
H: Doesn’t care.
J: At all.
H: He’s engaged in a different enterprise…
J: When you say ‘he’, you’re looking at me, and it’s not right.
H: I didn’t say you.
J: No, but I see the eyes…with the ‘he’ and the hmmm [looks at Frankfurt].
H: I’ll try to be more careful.
J: I appreciate it. Which is more prevalent, do you think?
H: There’s a lot of lying, but I think probably bullshit is even more pervasive.
J: Tons and tons of bullshit.
H: Tons and tons of bullshit.
J: Gotta be a bull in there somewhere. Let me ask you – political spin. What would you categorize that as…you know, the spin that has enveloped political discourse.
H: Yeah, I’ve thought about that. I haven’t gotten very far, but it is a form of bullshit. I think it’s a…
J: A subset.
H: A subcategory…a subset, right. And I haven’t been able to put my finger on the distinguishing characteristics of spin, but it’s an interesting question.
J: Is spin a subset of bullshit but because there is an agreement not to call ‘bullshit’ on it…in other words, within the media, they go to Spin Alley. After a debate, they all go to Spin Alley – they would never say, “Hey, let’s go over to Bullshit Street.” Is maybe the difference that there is sort of an implicit agreement with those who are all bullshitting each other not to call it.
H: Does it take an agreement? People don’t call it that generally, on the air anyway.
J: I’m failing this class, aren’t I?
H: Well, we haven’t…I wouldn’t…
J: You’re thinking of failing me!
H: You’ve still got a chance…we’ll pull you through.
J: Thank you. Do you think that the people in political spin think they’re lying, do you think they care about the truth, or do they care about the result of what their spin gets them?
H: Yeah, it’s the last I think. They don’t care particularly about the truth – they care about producing a certain impression in the minds of the people to whom they’re addressing their speech. And they’re engaged in the enterprise of manipulating opinion, they’re not engaged in the enterprise of reporting the facts.
J: Is it cyclical? Will we come back to a cycle of truth-telling? Will there be something that cuts through that, or is this…have you seen ebb and flow, or just it keeps piling?
H: I think it keeps piling.
H: Did I say something funny?
J: You did! You know what it is -- It is the idea that you consider this so…I can see it in your head…you’re really thinking, and that is – on Comedy Central – unheard of. So we appreciate it.
H: Well, that’s how I make my living.
J: Yes, now…Bullshit is on bookshelves now.
H: Yes, I hope so.
J: So , if I just can say to the audience…go find yourselves some Bullshit and buy it. Thank you so much for coming on, it really is quite an interesting essay and a lot of fun to read.
H: My pleasure.
J: A lot of fun to talk to you. Harry Frankfurt.