Bullshit as Unintelligibility

Saying that some claim is bullshit is to negatively appraise the claim. But to appraise or evaluate a claim presupposes that you understood what was claimed. But what is the situation when you don’t understand the claim? There are two possibilities: (1)either there is something amiss with you or (2) there is something amiss with the alleged communication.

Now I don’t know most foreign languages, and when I encounter situations in which people are speaking an unknown foreign language, I know that the problem lies with me. What is said is unintelligible to me because I do not know this language. A similar problem arises when I hear people talking, using a technical language with its jargon, as, for example, physicists or mycologists. (If you do not know what I am talking about, this is because you don’t know what a mycologist is. I have just used some technical vocabulary.) In both these cases, the problem is similar. You don’t understand the language; therefore, whatever is talked about, is, as we say, “Greek to me.” (It’s a foreign language that I don’t understand.)

On the other hand, there are situations in which the problem does not lie with you, but with the communication itself. And this can happen in different ways. One way is to think that someone is speaking in a foreign language — but what you are hearing only sounds like a foreign language — but it is not. Sid Caesar was great at making sounds which seemed like a foreign language — but it was meaningless. Here is an example:

There is also the phenomenon which is called “double-talk.”  Even though it seems to be normal English, it contains nonsense words and nonsensical combination of words.  Here is an example:


A famous nonsense poem is Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”  It sounds English because it is grammatically constructed, but some of the words are pure inventions. Here it is:

Sometimes after an allegedly philosophical lecture, a person may say “It was deep.  I am afraid it was too profound for me to understand.”  My reply could be: “You did not understand because it was intrinsically nonsensical.”

Then there is also the phenomenon of rambling: stringing together unconnected ideas and words. Here is Sarah Pahlin endorsing Donald Trump:

Francis Bacon on bullshit beliefs

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in his Novum Organum (1620), classifies the sources of false beliefs (i.e. bullshit beliefs) into four categories or idols:
idols of the tribe (idola tribus),
idols of the cave (idola specus),
idols of the market (idola fori), and
idols of the theater (idola theatri).

See also:


C. D. Broad, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon, 1926.

Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life

I have taught courses in critical thinking under the guise of “logic” as well as under the guise of “introduction to philosophy.” One of the best textbooks on critical thinking was (and perhaps still is) Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life, by Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker.  I have the 2d edition. Searching the Internet, I found that there currently is an 12th edition [cost, about $190]. But more interesting is that someone in China has placed the 9th edition on the Internet as a pdf file. So, before the copy disappears for some reason or other, download it while you can.


In this post, I am recommending that you read Chapter 4: Credibility and Chapter 5: Persuasion Through Rhetoric. These two chapters could be called “Bullshitting (especially in the News and Advertising Media) by language, pictures, and movies.”