He is professor emeritus of philosophy at
His major areas of interest include moral philosophy, philosophy of mind and action, and 17th century rationalism. His 1986 paper On Bullshit, a philosophical investigation of the concept of "bullshit", was republished as a book in 2005 and became a surprise bestseller, leading to media appearances such as Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. In 2006 he released a companion book, On Truth, which explores society's loss of appreciation for truth.
Among philosophers, he was for a time best known for his interpretation of Descartes's rationalism. His most influential work, however, has been on freedom of the will (on which he has written numerous important papers) based on his concept of higher-order volitions and for developing what are known as "Frankfurt cases" or "Frankfurt counterexamples" (i.e., thought experiments designed to show the possibility of situations in which a person could not have done other than he/she did, but in which our intuition is to say nonetheless that this feature of the situation does not prevent that person from being morally responsible).
He is a Fellow of the
Provocative Title Reveals Topic Worthy of Deeper Discussion
By Ed Uyeshima
By J. Brian Watkins
"On Truth" is a sequel to a famous predecessor regarding BS wherein Dr. Frankfurt uses the common vulgarity as a metaphor for the goals of our society. However, he felt that he had failed to adequately show the dangers of indifference to truth, which he defines as the hallmark of BS. His premise is that our society is based on truth sufficient to weather the increasing storms of BS but that the foundations of our culture are susceptible to the continual eroding force of BS. He argues that we need to start paying attention to truth before we lose the concept and are unable to repair the damage being done.
The Declaration of Independence began "We hold these truths to be self-evident" thus, those who went on to accomplish the American Revolution, draft and enact the Constitution, and who were generally recognized as a pretty capable bunch, did not collapse into arguments and finger-pointing about the philosophical niceties of what they were about. The self-evident truths of the founding fathers were rather like Justice Stewart's famous admission that pornography is hard to define, but "I know it when I see it." Truth is a staple of religious training--folks used to get their weekly dose in Sunday School. Thus, the decline in religious observance seems to be closely mirrored by the decline in appreciation for and understanding of truth in general. Too few commentators dare to approach the issue--the vicious attacks on those who profess any belief in truth are all too common, as is the prevailing attitude that "your truth" need not be "my truth."
Accordingly, "On Truth" is more of a warning than a summation. It is a piece of evidence, not proof of the argument. States Dr. Frankfurt: truth is of immense practicality, if we lose respect for truth we cease striving after it, we are more creatures of truth than we admit, ignorance and error have no value, lack of respect for the value of truth will ultimately cost us the very powers that give us the power to create.