Meaning in Gibberish: In Defence of Deep Bullshit

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Tom Burdge


In this essay I examine G. A. Cohen’s notion of deep bullshit; I provide a counterexample to the often-implicit belief that deep bullshit is always bad, and unphilosophical. Section 1's outline of deep bullshit includes an important criterion for being deep bullshit which philosophers often leave implicit; deep bullshit is a bad and undesirable phenomenon that we should root out. Section 2 examines whether the kōans of Chan Buddhists were deep bullshit. In this section I argue they were; not only do they fit all modern definitions of deep bullshit, the Chan teachers were intentional deep bullshitters. In section 3 I argue we should not see the deep bullshit of Chan Buddhism as bad and un-philosophical; in Chan, through deep bullshit came philosophical inquiry. Section 4 responds to the Cohenian position, which holds any text which is ``suggestive'' is not deep bullshit; a Cohenian could claim Chan’s kōans are suggestive, and so are not deep bullshit. I criticise this position by arguing that since philosophers of deep bullshit categorise Sokal’s spoof article as deep bullshit, they must also categorise Chan kōans as deep bullshit. In section 5 I argue most allegations of deep bullshit are likely to be epistemic trespass. In section 6 I make recommendations for how to avoid trespassing deep bullshit allegations in future.

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