Monday, July 31, 2017

Beyond bullshit?

My friend Chris Gavaler has co-written a piece with Nathaniel Goldberg on Trump and bullshit for Philosophy Now. If you're interested in this subject then, obviously, you might want to read it. Their conclusion is that a sample of Trump's speech is "beyond bullshit."

Here's the sample:
“He said something to the effect, ‘No we’re not leaving, because Donald Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.” Trump added, “I actually said I didn’t make [the promise]. When they played [my statement back], I said, ‘I did make it [to Carrier], but I didn’t mean it quite that way’.” As he explained: “I never thought I made that promise – not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn’t make it really for Carrier.” The promise was, he said: “A euphemism. I was talking about Carrier like all other companies from here on in, because they made the decision a year and a half ago”
After quoting this they talk a bit about what Trump might have meant and about Grice on implicature, before drawing their conclusion. But they've already quoted Frankfurt saying that the bullshitter "is not trying to deceive anyone concerning [the particular subject he happens to be talking about]. What he cares about is what people think of him." And that seems very much like what Trump is up to, and not something that Trump somehow goes beyond.

In this case. actually, Trump seems to be trying to tell the truth, more or less. At least, he seems to be acknowledging that Carrier made their decision before he did anything about keeping them in the US, although he's also adding a claim that other companies will keep jobs in the US now because of him (which is doubtful). He just isn't very good at speaking precisely. It does seem true, though, that what he cares about above all else is what people think of him. Trump is thus not beyond bullshit but the ultimate example of the kind of person Frankfurt was talking about. (As, I believe, Frankfurt himself has said.)


  1. Trump cares what the NYTimes and all say about him but he is always selling always trying to get over on whoever is in the room, the world is full of these folks with their certainty and grievances, arrogance and deep insecurities, effects whole regions from the outer boroughs of NYC to the south and the midwest.

  2. "He just isn't very good at speaking precisely.":
    Understatement of the year.