Occam’s Razor is one of those expressions that linger on the edge of most people’s sphere of knowledge: we kind of know what it is, having probably learned it once and since forgotten. We understand it in context but are fearful of misusing it ourselves. Well fear no more! Here’s what you need to know to take control of this useful expression.
Williamm of Ockham (1287-1347) was an English Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian. His so-called “razor” is a philosophical principle referred to as his razor because he used it so frequently in his writings, and because it can be used to cut away that which is not useful. He didn’t invent the principle, but was given credit after his death for mastering its use.
Simply stated, Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle that states that when you have competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. In practical terms, the simplest solution is usually the right one and there is no need to complicate things with complex or far-fetched hypotheses. The principle asks you to consider if you already have the information you need to draw a conclusion.