Occam's razor

Oc·​cam's razor | \ ˈä-kəmz- How to pronounce Occam's razor (audio) \
variants: or less commonly

Definition of Occam's razor

: a scientific and philosophical rule that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily which is interpreted as requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities

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William of Occam (also spelled "Ockham") didn't invent the rule associated with his name. Others had espoused the "keep it simple" concept before that 14th-century philosopher and theologian embraced it, but no one wielded the principle (also known as the "law of parsimony") as relentlessly as he did. He used it to counter what he considered the fuzzy logic of his theological contemporaries, and his applications of it inspired 19th-century Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton to link Occam with the idea of cutting away extraneous material, giving us the modern name for the principle.

First Known Use of Occam's razor

1852, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for Occam's razor

William of Occam

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The first known use of Occam's razor was in 1852

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Cite this Entry

“Occam's razor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Occam%27s%20razor. Accessed 25 May. 2022.

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