Frankfurt, Harry G. 1929- (Harry Gordon Frankfurt)

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Frankfurt, Harry G. 1929- (Harry Gordon Frankfurt)


Born May 29, 1929, in Langhorne, PA; son of Nathan (a bookkeeper) and Bertha Frankfurt; married Marilyn Rothman (a social worker), December 18, 1960; married Joan Gilbert, December 17, 1990; children (from first marriage): Katherine, Jennifer. Education: Johns Hopkins University, B.A., 1949, M.A., 1953, Ph.D., 1954; Cornell University, graduate study, 1949-51.


Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, instructor, 1956-59, assistant professor of philosophy, 1959-62; Harpur College (now State University of New York at Binghamton), Binghamton, NY, associate professor of philosophy, 1962-63; Rockefeller University, New York, NY, research associate, 1963-64, professor of philosophy, 1964-76; Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of philosophy, beginning 1976, department chair, 1978-87; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, professor of philosophy, 1990-2002, professor emeritus, 2002—. All Souls College, Oxford, visiting fellow, 1971-72; University of Kansas, Lindley Lecturer, 2000; University of California, Riverside, visiting professor, 2000. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-56.


American Philosophical Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Phi Beta Kappa.


Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes' Meditations, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1970, reprinted with foreword by Rebecca Goldstein, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2007.

(Editor) Leibniz: A Collection of Critical Essays, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1972.

The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Necessity, Volition, and Love (essays), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Some Mysteries of Love, University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2001.

The Reasons of Love, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2004.

On Bullshit, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right, edited by Debra Satz, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 2006.

On Truth, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, and American Philosophical Quarterly.


Harry G. Frankfurt is a philosopher who broke new ground in the 1970s with his research and writing on what Ethics writer Paul H. Benson called "autonomy, responsibility, and identification." In his review of the essay collection Necessity, Volition, and Love, Benson commented on "the depth and integrity of Frankfurt's thought, as well as the sheer delight of his prose," qualities that the critic suggested could transcend a reader's opinions of the views expressed therein.

The Reasons of Love was described by Ethics reviewer Gabriel Richardson Lear as being "ambitious, plainspoken, funny, and often extraordinarily provocative. Anyone familiar with his earlier work will be interested to see how he brings together ideas about freedom, caring, selfhood, identification, and practical reasoning that he has developed and defended in greater detail elsewhere. In fact, having that background will be a help. The book is succinct." The volume consists of revised Tanner lectures given at Princeton University and University College London.

In 2005 Frankfurt broke new ground when his philosophical analysis On Bullshit drew widespread attention of readers and critics alike. The slender book, updated from an essay originally published some twenty years earlier, is a discussion of truth and falsehood in terms accessible to the general reader. The book also appeared in stores at an ideal moment in history when politicians, journalists, and other supposedly reputable sources of information had lost a substantial amount of credibility in the public eye. Frankfurt's premise is that both truth-tellers and liars are aware of the truth and care about it, in one way or another. "Bullshitters" may or may not be telling the truth and may or may not even be aware of the truth; either way, the truth does not matter to them—what matters is that they are believed. That, according to Frankfurt, makes the bullshitters even greater threats than liars. In an age "where the truth is becoming irrelevant," as George Walden stated in his New Statesman review, the bullshitters feed the public hunger for innuendo, evasion, and falsehood, thereby fomenting "a culture of indifference to how things really are." As Jonathan Lear wrote in the New Republic: "This is the problem with bullshit: it is contagious. It invites us all to grow more detached from the real, to give up caring about what is true and what is false"; thus, the need for (and popularity of) a book that attempts to reveal the phenomenon for what it is.

Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right is based on two lectures delivered by Frankfurt at Stanford University in 2004. He considers how we can learn to get ourselves right through insights gained by studying our behavior. On Truth is Frankfurt's follow-up essay to On Bullshit. "This sequel, equally brief, trenchant, and deeply thoughtful, is another extended essay," commented Brad Hooper in Booklist. Here Frankfurt deplores the disregard for truth that he sees exhibited by politicians and others, including writers, and concludes that a society that does not value truth is destined to decline. "He discusses lying (it's almost always bad) and shows how both liars and lie-ees are damaged," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Alison McCulloch wrote in a review for the New York Times Book Review that "if we're already smart enough to know what truth is (given that philosophers have been fighting about it for millenniums), then knowing it's an important thing to care about should be a slam dunk. Several of his points seem to bear this out, including the claim that we simply can't help caring."



Booklist, October 15, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of On Truth, p. 4.

Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, spring, 2006, Emer O'Hagan, review of The Reasons of Love.

Ethics, July, 1990, Carl F. Cranor, review of The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays, p. 886; October, 2000, Paul H. Benson, review of Necessity, Volition, and Love, p. 202; October 1, 2005, Gabriel Richardson Lear, review of The Reasons of Love, p. 228.

Journal of Philosophy, January 1, 2006, Niko Kolodny, review of The Reasons of Love, p. 43.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, review of On Truth, p. 938.

Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Jason Moore, review of Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right, p. 76.

Mother Jones, July-August, 2005, Dave Nuttycombe, review of On Bullshit, p. 79.

New Republic, March 21, 2005, Jonathan Lear, review of On Bullshit, p. 23.

Newsletter on Newsletters, March 12, 2007, Paul Swift, review of On Bullshit, p. 5.

New Statesman, May 9, 2005, George Walden, review of On Bullshit, p. 62.

New York Times Book Review, November 12, 2006, Alison McCulloch, review of On Truth.

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Frankfurt, Harry G. 1929- (Harry Gordon Frankfurt)

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