Bullshit Promises

We have wondered for over a decade why so many Venezuelans buy into Hugo Chavez’s bullshit. We still have no solid answers. But today we found this link: Bullshit Promises,” by Curtis Bridgeman and Karen Sandrik, looks at the concept of “bullshit” as defined by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt.
Frankfurt argues that bullshit is different than lying. Lying takes place when a person says something he knows to be untrue. Bullshit is when the speaker is indifferent to the truth.
According to Frankfurt, the defining characteristic of bullshit is that it is speech that holds itself out as describing reality, but fails to live up to the accepted standards of how we go about making such descriptions. It is not the actual truth or falsehood which determines whether a statement is bullshit, but rather whether it is made with or without regard for whether it is true or false. Here is the abstract of the paper:
“A few years ago, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt published an essay provocatively entitled ‘On Bullshit.’ Convinced both that our society is laden with bullshit and that we nevertheless do not have a clear idea of what it is, Frankfurt set out to explain what bullshit is and to distinguish it from lying. While the liar seeks to lead his listener to a false belief, the bullshitter is unconcerned with truth altogether. Although the project sounds at first like the essence of philosophical navel-gazing, Frankfurt was trying to make an important point about how this indifference to truth has caused us to lose our way a bit in philosophical and political discourse.” “In this project, we draw on Frankfurt’s work to point out a disturbing trend in contract law: the use of bullshit promises. Bullshit promises are promises that are in a certain sense insincere even though they are not lying promises, at least not in a sense that would be actionable under the tort of promissory fraud. Promissory fraud is available in cases where a party makes a promise that it has no intention to keep, and it does so in order to deceive the promisee about its intentions. But it is quite common today for parties, especially companies dealing with consumers, to make promises that are not lying promises in that the promisor is not concealing an intention not to perform, but that are nevertheless insincere. In such cases a party uses promissory language but elsewhere reserves the right not to perform, or to change the terms of performance unilaterally as it sees fit. Such promises are not necessarily lying, especially if the promisor does not at the time have a specific plan to change the terms, but they are usually bullshit. By simply leaving its options open a party can help itself to the benefits of promissory language without being subject to the norms associated with promising, in particular some sort of commitment to a particular course of action.”


About Caracas Gringo

Representing less than 0.00000000001515152% of the world population as of 31 December 2011.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s