I sympathize with this book through and through, but it's somewhat lacking in reflectiveness. Not entirely, mind you, but just enough to worry me. The problem is summed up in this sentence (p. 5): "I had made an important assumption, which I had offhandedly supposed most of my readers would share: viz., being indifferent to truth is an undesirable or even a reprehensible characteristic, and bullshitting is therefore to be avoided and condemned." The author, Harry Frankfurt, goes on to defend this assumption with the most obvious of arguments: that we need to be able to interact with reality and not be duped by others. Again, I sympathize, but this fails to recognize subtle issues in the psychology of self-deception. For one thing, as people like Steve Pinker point out, it may be simpler to be self-deceived than to be juggling conscious lies. A person can benefit from a certain sort of self-deception as they'd benefit from lies. The question in such a case is not of self-interest but responsibility to others.
More importantly, I think Frankfurt is simply someone who has never been good at self-deception, and therefore has never had to seriously consider the issue. I remember starkly a conversation I had once with a friend, who told me how scared she was of her own ability to deceive herself. I naively asked whether noticing this problem would automatically put an end to it. I mentioned how I once simply noticed that I couldn't take religion seriously anymore, and simply walked away, and was told in return that most people can't do that. "You watched it! You can't unwatch it!" a Futurama quote, became a catchphrase because it seems so obvious and a representation of things we often encounter, but some people seem to have the surprising ability to unthink thoughts. For another example, consider this quote from Georges Rey's contribution to the anthology Philosophers Without Gods:
Paradoxical though it may sound, I can think of a number of areas in my own life where I regularly practice self-deception (though, for it to be effective, I mustn't dwell on the fact for too long).I couldn't pull this off dwelling on the fact at all. Or even thinking about it momentarily. This divide amongst human beings deserves more attention. It's interesting to carefully watch the way how people fall here influences there thinking on related matters. I think of Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which worries that the things we learn about religion may harm us, but ultimately advocates studying it because hey, it's important. This is supposed to be a rationally grounded conclusion, but I suspect Dennett just isn't able to take the alternative seriously. Or, there's an appendix to Theodore Drange's Nonbelief & Evil which considers the possibility that we can control our beliefs, which seemed to him important to some of the religious claims he was critiquing. Drange reports himself to be utterly unable to consciously influence his own beliefs, and only grudgingly concedes based on contact with his students that some people have this ability to a limited degree. These are the kinds of biases we need to be more aware of, before we give such straightforward endorsements of truthfulness as are found in On Truth.