Perfect Chaos

The Blog of Author Steven Colborne

What is Occam’s Razor?

Welcome to another instalment of Friday Philosophy. In this week’s post I’ll present a snapshot of the English friar and theologian William of Ockham. We’ll look his most famous idea, known as Occam’s razor, and I’ll offer a few reflections on the man and his thought.

Who Was He?

The ‘Ockham’ part of William’s title relates to a small town of the same name in Surrey in the South East of England, where he was born in 1287 AD. In the same vein as Thomas Aquinas, who we looked at in last week’s post, William was a scholastic theologian and a major Christian thinker of the Medieval period.

William wrote influential works in the fields of logic, theology, and physics, and is celebrated in the Church of England with a commemoration each year on 10th April.

What’s the Big Idea?

The idea that came to be known as Occam’s razor is as follows. Where in matters of philosophy or science there are competing theories or hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be the one with which we proceed.

It may be not entirely accurate to attribute this idea solely to William of Ockham, as many centuries earlier, Aristotle had said, “Other things being equal, we should prefer a demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses.” (Aristotle, Posterior Analytics).

My Reflections

I think Occam’s razor highlights the fact that there is often beauty in simplicity. We all love the formula E=MC2 because it is very simple yet captures a significant truth about the functioning of the physical world that has become profoundly important in the world of science.

I believe that Occam’s razor has some application when we consider deep philosophical questions about, for instance, the nature of God. Perhaps one of the reasons why the pantheist perspective that ‘all is God’ is so appealing is because it’s such a simple theory.

On the other hand, I don’t think Occam’s razor could be applied to all aspects of theology and philosophy. For instance, if we look at moral questions, such as the theodicy problem (why is there so much suffering in the world?) I believe the answer may well be very complex. Simplicity and complexity are both facets of the nature of God, and of the world, and both should be taken into account in the study of philosophical subjects.

In next week’s philosophy post we’ll move on from the Medieval period and begin looking at key thinkers in the 16th and 17th century, which saw the beginning of modern science. If you’d like to follow the series, please consider subscribing to this blog. Feel free to leave your thoughts about Occam’s razor in the comments below. Thank you for reading!

15 responses to “What is Occam’s Razor?”

    1. Thank you for reading, Catherine!


  1. Great post. I never knew anything about Occam himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, my friend!


  2. Was Occam also responsible for K.I.S.S.? “Keep It Simple Stupid” 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Makes me think of the movie Contact, in which this factored rather significantly. Good advice to stop the brain from racing. Go with the simplest explanation for things. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pastor Allen. I have a feeling I’ve seen the film Contact, though a long time ago! (I’m not too good with movies and have a terrible memory anyway!) Thank you for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Contact is a good one. Matthew McConaughey gives Occam Razor advice to Jodie Foster.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hmmm might see if I can watch it via my Amazon Prime membership! Thank you!


  4. Great Post!….those in the world of Theory of Constraints are disciples of Occam Razor

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing that, and thanks for reading 🙂


  5. Your closing sentence/thought is truth, outside philosophical subjects as well. Appreciate being informed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Eric! Nice to hear from you. I hope all is well 🙂


  6. It was great to be educated on not only the contents of a man’s work, but also the man himself! Thanks for that bit of history and philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Brett! Glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for your comment 🙂


Steven Colborne

About Me

Hello, I’m Steven and I’m a philosopher and author based in London. My main purpose as a writer is to encourage discussion about God. I write about a wide variety of subjects related to philosophical theology, including divine sovereignty, the nature of God, suffering, interfaith dialogue and more. My mantra: Truth heals.

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