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At odds with the truth
  1. William Simkulet
  1. Correspondence to Dr William Simkulet, Department of Philosophy, Mid Michigan Community College, Harrison, MI 48625, USA; Simkuletwm{at}

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The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to. 1  - Harry Frankfurt

In both lying and truth-telling, the speaker intends the audience to believe what she says is true; that her enterprise is to inform her audience. In contrast, the speaker who bullshits doesn’t care whether the audience believes what she says, rather she intends her audience to believe or do something else—to think highly of her, to buy what she is selling, or the like.

I argue that nudging is incompatible with securing genuine informed consent.2 I assume, but do not argue, that informed consent requires truth-telling during adequate disclosure. When a physician nudges, her intention is to irrationally influence her patient’s choice, not inform. Because of this, nudging cannot be understood as truth-telling (even when the nudger says only true things); rather it is essentially bullshit.1


In "Truth be told," Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby and Peter A Ubel argue that not all nudging is incompatible with truth-telling, contending that ‘nudges can be bullshit,’ but that ‘nudging does not require bullshitting.’3 They ask us to consider the following:

Vaccination: Consider a physician who wants her patient to get a vaccine. She tells him why the vaccine is important, by providing factually correct information about the vaccine. In other words, she engages in informed disclosure aimed at enhancing the patient’s understanding. At the same time, she also tells the patient that the majority of people his age get the vaccine. In other words, she engages in nudging the patient by …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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