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Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 29, Issue 1/4, 2010

Andrew Johnson
Pages 5-32

A New Take on Deceptive Advertising
Beyond Frankfurt’s Analysis of ‘BS’

The publication of Harry Frankfurt’s 1986 essay “On Bullshit,” and especially its republication as a book in 2005, have sparked a great deal of interest in the philosophical analysis of the concept of bullshit. The present essay seeks to contribute to the ever-widening discussion of the concept by applying it to the realm of advertising. First, it is argued that Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit is too narrow, and an alternative definition is defended that accommodates both Frankfurt’s truth-indifferent bullshit and what is here termed “culpably confused bullshit.” Second, it is explained why a great deal of advertising constitutes bullshit so defined. The essay concludes by making the case that bullshitting in general is clearly unethical on both Utilitarian and Kantian grounds.

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