OCCAM’S RAZOR

William of Occam is one philosopher who got it right.

The popular TV series “House” had a episode entitled “Occam’s Razor.”  During the show, the star, (also named “House”) gave the one of the best explanations for the concept of Occam’s Razor that I’ve heard when he said, “The simplest explanation is almost always somebody screwed up.”

Of course, I must humbly tender my own offering as a common-man explanation of the underlying concept of Occam’s Razor as follows:  “Just cutting thru the bull”

I feel certain that William of Ockham would wholeheartedly agree and end any further discussion on the matter  right here.

But to satisfy those few who obsess over digging further into the background of such things, I have included more.

The Franciscan friar (devoted to a life of poverty and minimalism) and an early English philosopher, William of Ockham (ca. 12851349) wrote “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” or “Pluralities should not be posited without necessity.” It is often paraphrased as “Simple explanations are preferred to complex ones”

He was considered a major figure of medieval thought and the father of modern epistemology. He is also the name most associated with the line of reasoning called, Occams’ Razor.

The principle of Occam’s Razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.

The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (“law of parsimony”), often paraphrased as “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.”

A Wickipedia search revealed the following examples:

“when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.”

“If you have two theories that both explain the observed facts, then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along”

“The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations.”

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

“If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest.”

“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.”

. . .or in the only form that most takes its own advice. . . “Keep it simple stupid!”

Occam’s Razor is a method that encourages seekers of knowledge to discover solutions for themselves.  It is a guide toward understanding that leads to the conclusion that a simpler explanation is more likely the correct one; at least it’s usually more likely to be true than the other choice.

In the end, “ . . . it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth.” (Swinburne 1997)

Common sense, logical simplicity and willingness to face what is in front of you combined with the courage to say what it is. This is the essence of Occam’s Razor in my opinion.

Human nature being as it is, we all have a tendency to add complexity and clutter to any simple statement of fact, but I still hold to my five words summarizing my understanding of the principle of Occam’s Razor:

“Just cutting thru the bull.” .

In my opinion, nothing more need be said.

daniel w. jacobs
(c) 2008-2020, all rights reserved

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