December 10, 2021

CRITIQUE-PTRG Seminar Epistemically Exploitative Bullshit. A Sartrean Account – 9 March 2022, 3 pm

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Pre-read, virtual seminar with Thomas Szanto (Copenhagen University). To receive the paper and link to the event, please email Event co-sponsored with the Political Theory Research Group at the University of Edinburgh.


This paper presents a novel conceptualization of a type of untruthful speech that is of eminent political relevance but has hitherto been unrecognized: epistemically exploitative bullshit (EEB). Speakers engaging in EEB are bullshitting: they deceive their addressee regarding their unconcern for the very difference between truth and falsity. At the same time, they exploit their discursive victims: they oblige their counterparts to provide unacknowledged and emotionally draining epistemic work to educate the speakers about the addressees’ oppression, only to discredit the addressees’ epistemic trustworthiness. I argue that EEB is irreducible to various recently discussed untruthful speech, such as Frankfurtian bullshit, bald-faced lies or disinformation, as well as to epistemic exploitation or other epistemic injustices. Taking inspiration from Sartre’s analysis of anti-Semitic discourse, where bullshitting and epistemic exploitation are essentially interlinked, I rather suggest that recognizing the distinctiveness of EEB allows for a more refined conceptualization of these discursive phenomena. Specifically, I show how bad faith and the ensuing collective diffusion and delegation of epistemic responsibility play a so far neglected but key role here. Ultimately, I demonstrate that with Sartre we can better grasp than with the lens of analytic or critical epistemology alone how the existential, interpersonal and the institutional dimensions in the negotiation of truth seamlessly intersect.

Thomas Szanto is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen and PI of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) research project “Antagonistic Political Emotions”. Before coming to Copenhagen, he has worked and taught among others at the University of Vienna, University College Dublin, and the University of Jyväskylä. His publications include the monograph Bewusstsein Intentionalität und Mentale Repräsentation: Husserl und die Analytische Philosophie des Geistes (de Gruyter 2012), the co-edited volume The Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the ‘We’ (Routledge 2016), and The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Emotions (Routledge 2020). His articles at the intersection of phenomenology, social cognition, social ontology and the philosophy of emotions appeared among others in the journals Frontiers in Psychology, Human Studies, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, Philosophy Compass, Synthese, and Topoi.