Friday, 13 July 2007

Occam's razor

Occam's razor (sometimes spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle 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" or "law of succinctness"):

    entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,

which translates to:

    entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

This is often paraphrased as "All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one." In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest hypothetical entities. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood.

Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity in scientific theories.


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