8th March 1788.

If God does not help in explaining the universe ignore the notion: Occam’s Razor in a nut-shell.

Scholasticism was the method used by the medieval Scholastics in determining truth through the logical reasoning of discourse: dialectics.

One such was William of Ockham (c1285-1348), who developed the notion that ideas should make as few assumptions as possible; the simplest explanation being the best.

As a result of this philosophy questions inevitably arose as to what constituted Reason and Faith and whether they could be reconciled, a dilemma which left Catholic Church theology the embarrassment of thinking one thing and believing another.

Occam, scholastic philosopher, theologian, logician was a member of a mendicant group of Franciscans, who along with John Duns Scotus, criticized Thomist doctrines (1) and sought to free faith from links with reason, the vital unity of philosophy and theology.(2)

The philosophy of the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and Albert Magnus saw in ‘Thomism’ Faith and Reason in harmony, a synthesis of Greek rationalism of Aristotle and Christian doctrine which has defined Roman Catholicism ever since.(3)

The term Occam’s Razor implying one should shave away unnecessary assumptions, was  first coined in 1852, by the philosopher William Hamilton Bt. who was born Today in 1788.(4)

Isaac Newton had previously expressed this: ‘we are to admit no causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearance’.

This lex parsimoniae (Law of Parsimony) is a useful tool in modern logical thinking in many fields for it can be  used in heuristic- rule of thumb methods-to aid scientists in developing theories and models.

Biologists can determine evolutionary change, and diagnosis aided in medicine. it could be used in current debates on ‘Global Warming’ by looking for the best theory based on independent scientific principles and knowledge, thus avoiding fanciful and dubious explanations.

‘Whenever possible substitute constructions out of knowing entities for inferences to unknown entities’: Bertrand Russell. Logical Constructions.

(1) Thomists after Thomas Aquinas.

(2) Followers of Scotus adopted the pointed ‘dunces hat’ to channel wisdom from heaven. Scotus was revered until the period of  Renaissance Humanism, when he became identified with a painful hair-splitting, sophistry then deemed rather old-fashioned:Dunces.

(3) The notion in fact goes back to Aristotle: ‘the more limited if adequate is preferable’, and to Ptolemy: ‘look for the simplest hypothesis possible’.

(4a) Hamilton: 1852 Discourses, as recorded in Thorburn’s Mind 27, 1918. 345-53.

(4b) Occam stated the principle: numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. Plurality must never  be posited without necessity.

(4c) The most popular version of the philosophy was written by John Pounce 1639 (Thorburn 1918.

(4d) It was Occam’s empirical criticism which cleared the ground for a renewed interest in Natural Science and Platonism, arguing for a pragmatic and simpler notion of two competing ideas: religion and reason, an idea which Luther was to follow.

Ref: wikipedia.org/william_of_occam.

Ref: wikipedia.org/duns_scotus.

Ref: thehistoryblog.com.

Ref: physics.umd.edu.

Ref: membercentral.aaas.org/blogs/origin of occam’s razor.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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