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Bullshit, trust, and evidence

  • Adrian Briciu

    Adrian Briciu (PhD University of Barcelona, Spain) is assistant professor at West University of Timisoara, Romania. His research interests focus on indexicality, contextual effects on compositionality, the semantics-pragmatics interface and, lately, on the pragmatics of misleading and deceitful speech. He has published on the semantics and pragmatics of indexical expressions, semantic underdetermination and pragmatic enrichment and on the semantics of context-shifting expressions.

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From the journal Intercultural Pragmatics

Abstract

It has become almost a cliché to say that we live in a post-truth world; that people of all trades speak with an indifference to truth. Speaking with an indifference to how things really are is famously regarded by Harry Frankfurt as the essence of bullshit. This paper aims to contribute to the philosophical and theoretical pragmatics discussion of bullshit. The aim of the paper is to offer a new theoretical analysis of what bullshit is, one that is more encompassing than Frankfurt’s original characterization. I part ways with Frankfurt in two points. Firstly, I propose that we should not analyze bullshit in intentional terms (i.e. as indifference). Secondly, I propose that we should not analyze it in relation to truth. Roughly put, I propose that bullshit is best characterized as speaking with carelessness toward the evidence for one’s conversational contribution. I bring forward, in the third section, a battery of examples that motivate this characterization. Furthermore, I argue that we can analyze speaking with carelessness toward the evidence in Gricean terms as a violation of the second Quality maxim. I argue that the Quality supermaxim, together with its subordinate maxims, demand that the speaker is truthful (contributes only what she believes to be true) and reliable (has adequate evidence for her contribution). The bullshitter’s main fault lies in being an unreliable interlocutor. I further argue that we should interpret what counts as adequate evidence, as stipulated by the second Quality Maxim, in contextualist terms: the subject matter and implicit epistemic standards determine how much evidence one needs in order to have adequate evidence. I contrast this proposed reading with a subjectivist interpretation of what counts as having adequate evidence and show that they give different predictions. Finally, working with a classic distinction, I argue that we should not understand bullshit as a form of deception but rather as a form of misleading speech.


Corresponding author: Adrian Briciu, Department of Philosophy and Communication Sciences, West University of Timisoara, Timisoara, Romania, E-mail:

About the author

Adrian Briciu

Adrian Briciu (PhD University of Barcelona, Spain) is assistant professor at West University of Timisoara, Romania. His research interests focus on indexicality, contextual effects on compositionality, the semantics-pragmatics interface and, lately, on the pragmatics of misleading and deceitful speech. He has published on the semantics and pragmatics of indexical expressions, semantic underdetermination and pragmatic enrichment and on the semantics of context-shifting expressions.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of this journal as well as Tobies Grimaltos, Andrei Moldovan, Bianca Savu, Sergiu Spătan and Dan Zeman for their helpful comments and suggestions on previous drafts of the paper. I also thank audiences at Complutense University of Madrid, University of Valencia and University of Bucharest for their questions, comments, objections and suggestions.

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Published Online: 2021-10-21
Published in Print: 2021-11-25

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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