What are philosophical razors and why are they important for critical thinking?
A philosophical razor is a tool used in philosophy and critical thinking to help simplify an argument or theory. The razor gets its name from the analogy of shaving with a sharp blade. Just as a razor removes unwanted hair, a philosophical razor helps remove any unnecessary arguments or complexities from an idea or theory.
Here are six philosophical razors and their meanings.
“Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle attributed to William of Occam that suggests that the simplest solution is usually the best one. This principle can be applied to problem-solving, in which the simplest solution is more likely to be correct than a more complicated one. It can also be applied to speculation, in which the most likely explanation is the simplest one.
Occam’s razor is often summarized as “the law of parsimony.” This means that when multiple explanations are possible, we should choose the simplest one. This principle is based on the idea that nature tends to be simple, and that complications are more likely to be caused by human interference.
There are some exceptions to Occam’s razor, particularly in cases where multiple solutions are equally simple. In these cases, other factors such as feasibility or likelihood of success may need to be considered.
The best explanation then, is the one that fits the evidence, using the fewest assumptions.
Note: Occam’s razor doesn’t allow for the exclusion of data or evidence, so if the simplest explanation doesn’t account for all of the available data and evidence, then it’s not the best explanation.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
Note: Classic Shaving offers their Occam’s Razor line of safety razors.
“Conversational implications are to be preferred over semantic context for linguistic explanations.”
Like Occam’s razor, Grice’s razor is a principle that suggests that the best explanation for an occurrence is the simplest one. But the philosophy behind Grice’s razor is that Occam’s razor should be applied to explanations as well as theories. Grice’s Razor highlights the value of simplicity (AKA ‘parsimony’) in interpreting meaning.
Context is king and the ‘literal’ version of what is being said shouldn’t be taken in isolation.
“If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect.”
When a proposed cause is not sufficient to produce the desired effect, either we must eliminate it from consideration, or explain what course of action needs to be added to the cause to produce the desired effect.
‘Sagan’s Standard’, is a reformulation of Hume; in order to prove something incredible, the evidence must be equally incredible.
“Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
The basic idea behind the maxim is that the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim, not on the person questioning it. In other words, assertions should not be accepted until there is good evidence to support them.
This philosophy can be applied to a wide range of situations. For example, when evaluating a claim made by a politician, it is important to look at the evidence rather than simply taking their word for it. Similarly, in scientific research, hypotheses must be supported by data before they are accepted as fact.
Hitchen’s Razor is also relevant in personal life decisions.
if you turn-up to a debate without any empirical evidence, don’t expect anyone to entertain your claims and don’t be surprised when you get shut-down.
“That which cannot be settled by experiment is not worth debating.”
Alder’s Razor is better known by a more colorful moniker: ‘Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword’
Alder’s razor is a philosophy experiment that helps to simplify the understanding of complex problems. The premise is that when faced with a complex problem, take it apart into its simplest form and solve that. The name for this principle comes from the philosopher G.E.A.L. Alder who used it as a way to simplify philosophical problems.
The razor has been applied to many different fields including mathematics, physics, and engineering. It can be used as a problem solving tool as well as a way to understand complex concepts.
One of the benefits of using Alder’s razor is that it can help to prevent analysis paralysis- where someone gets stuck trying to understand a problem because it seems too complex. Breaking a problem down into smaller parts can help to clarify the issue and make it easier to solve.
“Never attribute to malice, that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
Hanlon’s razor is a principle in philosophy that suggests that we should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. In other words, don’t assume someone is being mean if they make a mistake – they may just be dumb.
The idea behind Hanlon’s razor is that most mistakes are the result of ignorance or carelessness, not malice. So before you start assuming that someone is out to get you, take a closer look at the situation and see if there’s a more logical explanation. For example, if your colleague keeps making mistakes at work, it’s probably not because they’re trying to sabotage your project – they may just be having a bad day.
- Occam — All things being equal, simpler answers are better because they have fewer assumptions
- Grice — Honesty is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say
- Hume — All claims need equally substantial evidence to back them up
- Hitchens — If you don’t have any evidence, then we don’t need to have a debate
- Alder — If you can’t get evidence by running an experiment…refer to Mr Hitchens
- Hanlon — Be patient with people (especially those without evidence)–they may not be evil, just stupid.
About The Author: Otto Wright is a budding author and traditional wet shaver.