Ockham's Razor: -- invent a new word!

There are times in philosophy when a new word should be coined for a useful phrase. I propose we need a word meaning “misapplication of Ockham’s Razor”. (That is, if there ever is a legitimate reason to use Ockham’s Razor.) The principle of reducing explanatory causes to as few as possible (do you believe in causes?) is often used to reduce all things to one cause. (viz. Nietzsche’s “will to power”) This deserves a name of it’s own. A call of “razorites”, or of “styptic pencil needed” should do to inform someone they are oversimplifying things rather then assigning the proper number of causes, however many.

What riled me to post this was the effort of another poster to reduce reasons for cross-racial marriage to first four, then two possible reasons. Definately needed some tissue wads.


“Oversimplification” is one word.


Ah, the French have a word for it! :slight_smile:

“Reducing the beard to a hair strand”

pm by myrealname

I vow not to post a topic in philosophy forum ever again. Nor read posters in here, only look at the questions. Since there is a pm message. I shall humbled replied as so as I can, like God answering a prayer.

I believe in reactions, therefore, I believe in causes. But we should not believe in causes as the beginning, but what is before that and that, till we end up with no more alternatives.

the end

The mechanism used for proofs of this sort of claim is ἡ εις άτοπον απαγωγη or in latin - reductio ad absurdum. It’s not specific to the razor, of course. If a certain assertion cannot be validly contradicted via this mechanism then there is little hope for it being a bad application of the razor, and as such I doubt whether we need such a phrase.

Ockham’s Razor is a wonderful tool when applied correctly. To insinuate that it is not useful or should never be applied is as bad as the repeated misapplication of the rule. Obviously the ideal is to apply it when appropriate, but not incorrectly, as with all the given examples.

However, I do think that Ockham’s Razor is more interesting and indicative of the true nature of truth than it is practical. Since two theories are almost never of equivalent explanatory power, it almost never applies. You can’t use it to argue for Newtonian Mechanics at the expense of Relativity. One of the few things you can use it to argue for is adopting “physics” as your explanatory method, rather than appealing to “physics + god”. As the two theories have equal predictive power (believing in “god” doesn’t enable any extra predictive abilities that can be tested), reject the one with the unnecessary “god” assumption, and go with pure physics instead.

But that’s pretty obvious. Anyone know any other good applications of Ockham’s Razor?

I have great regard for the razor. That is because it can be explained, perhaps incorrectly, by (over?) generalized evolutionary logic. Evolution, in all natural forms, is based on random happenings in the universe that work contingent on the environment that prevails, and then persist. The condition for this mechanism is simplicity. That which is a simple change has vastly greater chance of occurring than a more complex event. A parallel rule for explanations seems as attractive as the idea that human logic should somehow mirror whatever logic there might be in nature.

I apply Occam’s razor to my stew, which is my other house special. The first is boiled water. I add only as much seasoning as I can taste. Not more, nor less.

Hi. I guess dan020350 won’t be back, but he and Twiffy got me thinking about answering physical questions from the bottom up. (I hope he’ll forgive my asking where he won’t be reading.)

When I try it, like explaining where this house is from, it is from wood and artisans, wood is from trees, trees are from dirt the air and the sun. These things are composed of atoms which fall apart into smaller particles.

My problem, besides from where are the motions of artisans and maybe from where is vegetable growth, is where the properties of these atoms come from. Whence the electron’s proposed movement, for example. Whence atoms’ not falling apart easily? There may be answers to these questions, but would they be strictly material answers?

Do I need a mental strop? Someone please suggest a process for addressing these apparently non-material problems without doing “physics+God.”



“Out there” in the world, outside of the human mind, there is only the fact that atoms do not fall apart; or more accurately, the collection of atoms most of which do not fall apart. The explanation on the other hand is not “out there” but resides in the human mind as a complex of language and images. Inasmuch as language and images are identified with brain activity we can thus keep everything material.

On the other hand I give Aristotle great credit for developing the intellectual shorthand of the ‘form’, which I interpret as the human explanation given a kind of ‘out-there-ness’. I have no problem with using the intuition of the form as an immaterial thing ‘forming’ the material world, even if I ultimately identify this form as a certain material structure. I suppose Aristotle even agrees with me in that he would say the form does not exist apart from matter.

Hi aporia,

According to the reading I know of Aristotle, he does say the form can be separate from matter – in the mind. Beyond the language and the images is the universal form.

Interesting post.


Well, probably best to not invoke Aristotle in this. He was more innovative than almost anyone else in human history, but he still got a shitload of stuff wrong.

MyRealName, whenever you attempt to explain something, you are doing so from the “first principles” of a certain theory. This theory can be religion, but of course if you want a decent explanation, it won’t be, so it’s usually physics. Physics isn’t just composed of lists of observable parts - proton, electron, etc. - it also contains statements about quantities that aren’t observable, but are more like generalized observable properties of things that are observable. Length, temporal duration, mass, etc., and the dimensions in which these things occur - space & time. And, physics also contains statements about how observable parts relate to these properties. So when you ask about “what is the house made of” and you boil it down to quarks and electrons, and then you inquire about how you justify the motion of the electron - well, motion is something that exists defined by change in distance over time, where distance and time are fundamentals of the system. So motion is already defined in such a way that it doesn’t need more explanation - it’s part of the system that does the explaining. The specifics of motion, the wave function governing the location of the electron, is the same way - essentially an axiom of the system, used to explain, but not requiring explanation itself, beyond the fact that that which it predicts is observably verifiable.

Does that make sense? Essentially what I’m saying is that, although it seems like some of these fundamental things need explaining, they are sometimes so fundamental that they are axioms of the system, and cannot be explained, as they are the tools used for explaining.

For more advanced things, like “why does the atom not fall apart easily”, that can be explained, but you need more than high school level physics to understand. It’s all about the strong nuclear force!

Then there’s the question of, which of these explanations are materialist? If I justify the drop of the apple via gravity, which theoretically has a particle (the graviton) although that particle has never been observed, is it a materialist theory because it is spawned by physics and deals with matter? Or is it nonmaterialist because it deals with spooky forces-at-a-distance?

Meh, who cares? The only meaningful distinction is “testable” vs. “not-testable” - and axioms of physics are getting more untestable by the decade. We can never test whether an equation is true - we can just test whether specific predictions it makes are true. If that’s enough, then yes, all physics and all reasons for the house to exist are materialist. If you don’t like spooky-force-at-a-distance and want a better explanation, you’ll probably say that it is a nonmaterialist explanation. Either way, we’ll be understanding the same thing, I think.

“god is in the details…”


Thanks for the response, Twiffy. I understand pretty much all of what you said, but still have some questions.

As you say, some sciences have principles which are not proved in that science. The science which proves any science’s principles (in Aristotelian language – sorry) is called a “superior science.” Does physics have a superior science which proves its principles?

Next, do you think physics can explain the actions of an artisan or even of vegetative growth by itself?