Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wonderful comment

This comment was sent to me directly but not posted since the author was a bit concerned about the use of the term bullshit. With his permission I added it to the comments to Profscam and then he decided that attribution would be acceptable too. It is wasted as merely a comment so here it is:

In his 1986 essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, writes:

"What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt is to deceive about his enterprise. His only indispensable distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as an endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He doesn't care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picked them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.1"

[end of quote, now to commentator's own thoughts]

Profscam professors aren’t really liars; they’re bullshitters. The problem with “calling bullshit” on a fellow law faculty member is that at the same time you’re “calling bullshit” on a lawyer. And lawyers can readily either defend “bullshit” on the merits or keep the argument alive so long that the resulting angst becomes no longer worth it.2 And of course, anyone who “calls bullshit” on a colleague is, by definition, no longer “collegial.”3

Eliminating Profscam becomes more problematic when the group that decides what is and isn’t bullshit can not only understand the argument, but can extend it ad infinitum, 4 sometimes to the point of convincing others that “Yes, it is bullshit, but it’s good bullshit5 and it’s good for you, too.” Getting outside input on what is or isn’t bullshit is out of the question, too, either because “academic freedom” principles forbid it (sigh!) or because in the minds of some no other body is qualified to make that determination.

Will Profscam prosper in perpetuity? Maybe not, after a critical mass of MoneyLaw devotees and Utility Law teachers infiltrate the current system. Maybe then, more law professors will find validation and worth in what they do, not in what they pretend to do so that others will find “value” in them.

Richard Peck

(Sorry, the footnotes corresponding to the numbers in the text were not contained in the email. Jeff)


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