What Is Ockham’s Razor, What Is It Used For?June 27, 2021
Compared to all other components of his philosophy, William of Ockham is best known for his “Ockham’s razor” principle: “Assets should not be duplicated unless necessary.”
According to the idea that this principle is based on, if you have two different theories to explain a scientific data, you should choose the one that uses the least amount of elements from these theories.
Ockham is also known for his unrealistic “theory of universals” like Abelardus. One valid example of Ockham’s razor lies in his theory of universals. According to him, universals such as “man” or “red” exist only in our minds. In reality, everything is singular, individual. There are only real special cases such as “this red ball” or “this man”, but there are no such things as universals that really exist beyond these individual occurrences.
So when looking at a tennis ball and your mind diagnoses a trait such as “being yellow” or “having fluff”, all you know is the yellowness or fuzziness of that tennis ball. You cannot say that jaundice and fuzz exist independently of yellow and fuzzy stuff. Thus, like Abelardus before him, Ockham does not attribute real existence to universals and contradicts Plato’s theory of the realm of ideas (concepts), in which all forms exist. However, Ockham is sometimes referred to as an advocate of conceptualism, not nominalism, because nominalists claimed that universals were just nouns; that is, they said that these are words rather than existing realities. Conceptualists, on the other hand, argued that universals are mental concepts that “exist”, but exist only in the mind.
Ockham’s Razor theory is called “razor” because it cuts out unnecessary elements. While it is difficult to justify why such a simple analogy is preferred over a complex explanation, his “razor” has a great instinctive appeal. It encourages people to abandon unnecessary complexity and turn to simplicity. Why dwell on two reasons for something when one is enough? “It is futile to do with more what can be done with less,” says Ockham. Ockham’s thrift theory is still adhered to in scientific thought today.
Ockham’s Razor is a principle of frugality he developed that serves to prevent unnecessary speculation, to devalue it. Accordingly, when there is more than one explanation put forward to explain anything, the one who explains what has to be explained with the least number of explanatory principles and assumptions and succeeds in explaining as much as possible should be chosen; The simplest explanation has to be the most likely explanation, describing reality as it is.
This principle of Ockham has been widely accepted as one of the important principles of both modern science and philosophy. Thanks to this principle, we learn to distinguish between “what exists in our minds and in our language” and “what exists in reality”, and we are protected from dealing with unnecessary and useless explanations. The reason this principle speaks of the razor is that it serves to pluck out the unnecessary.
There is much speculation in theoretical physics that the Ockhamian’s razor should be smitten with. The common reasons for these speculations to come under the razor’s wrath are:
These claims are not based on any evidence.
These claims do not explain any phenomenon in the universe and do not contribute to our knowledge.
These claims only function as science fiction films and cause a waste of time by discussing them.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook