QUIZ YOURSELF ON “ITS” VS. “IT’S”!
Origin of Occam's razor
Words nearby Occam's razor
BEHIND THE PHRASE
What does Occam’s razor mean?
Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle that states the simplest explanation is usually the best one.
How do you pronounce Occam’s razor?[ ok–uhmz rey-zer ]
Where did Occam’s razor come from?
Occam’s razor is grounded in the idea of parsimony—being thrifty with your resources. Just as we all strive to pinch our pennies, Occam’s razor teaches us that we should hold off on our hypotheticals.
The phrase Occam’s razor is recorded in 1852 by the Scottish metaphysician Sir William Hamilton. Hamilton credited William of Ockham, a 14th-century English monk and philosopher, with formulating his namesake, Occam’s razor: “More things should not be used than are necessary.” In other words, when trying to make sense of some phenomenon (especially between two competing alternatives), it’s best to avoid the more elaborate explanation—shave it off, like a razor.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, says Occam’s razor, it’s probably a duck. Not a goose disguised as a duck that infiltrated the flock. Sure, that hypothetical exists. We can’t 100% rule out that it didn’t happen. But it’s most likely a duck.
Many folks first encounter Occam’s razor in school when learning about the scientific method and learning about how to create testable and falsifiable hypotheses. Occam’s razor compels us to form the simplest hypothesis that is consistent with the data available.
The principle is also commonly applied in modes of reasoning in philosophy, math, and religion—and, of course, The Simpsons in 1994, when Lisa cites Occam’s razor to dismiss some outlandish hypotheticals.
Some critics of Occam’s razor, however, state that the principle is an oversimplification of the complexities of real life and often rules out creative thinking.
How to use the phrase Occam’s razor
Outside of discussions in science and logic, some people casually cite Occam’s razor as a handy rule of thumb to make sense of life and all its messes. Others apply it more sharply to politics, especially to bust conspiratorial thinking.
Thanks to its name, Occam’s razor invites plenty of puns too.
Detective: after considering all the evidence and analyzing all the possible scenarios, I have concluded that the murder weapon was Occam's razor!
William of Occam: no, it can't be me. There must be a simpler explanation!
Detective: [smiles knowingly]
— vad.i.m (@phdzoidberg) June 6, 2018
More examples of Occam’s razor:
“With Occam’s Razor inspiring our designs, we can achieve views that are elegant in their simplicity and are all about user speed and efficiency. Something Alexa and her virtual assistance sisters can well appreciate and strive to deliver.”
—Deb Miller, CMSWire, June 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for Occam's razor
“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” Harry S. Connelly Jr. says in the video, according to the Times.
“Personal hotspots can get speeds of up to 60 Mb/s down, whereas hotel Wi-Fi can be as slow as 1.5 Mb/s,” Sesar said.How ‘Ethical’ Hotel Chain Marriott Gouges Guests in the Name of Wi-Fi Security|Kyle Chayka|December 31, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In our headlong quest for a legally perfect society, we don’t take the time to take stock of what‘s been created so far.
“The thing [North Korean government] want[s] the most is the non-release of this film,” Schiff said.
A third cabinet member used public funds to pay in an S & M bar.
Ajoutez cecy, s'il vous plaist, la grande difficult qu'il y a de tirer d'eux les mots mesmes qu'ils ont.
Neantmoins le vieil Membertou, pere du malade, conceut asss l'affaire, et me promit qu'on s'arresteroit tout ce que j'en dirois.
En effet un soir, sa femme et enfans l'abandonnerent entierement, et s'en allerent cabaner ailleurs, pensant que c'en estoit vuid.
Mrs. S. said she was familiar with it from having heard Thomas's orchestra play it in New York.Music-Study in Germany|Amy Fay
C'est asss demeur la maison; sortons un peu dehors, comme nous avons promis de faire, et racontons ce qui s'est pass par le pays.