Occam's razor


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

Did you know?

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.

Examples of Occam's razor in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Data science often tackles complex real-world issues, and unlike what Occam's razor suggests, looking for the simplest possible explanations typically leads to false causality. Pawel Rzeszucinski, Forbes, 16 Aug. 2022 Thinking parsimoniously - using Occam's razor and looking at probabilities here - what's more likely: an airplane flying away from a big city, or a big rock burning up in our atmosphere that almost no one saw? Phil Plait, Discover Magazine, 2 July 2012

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Occam's razor.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


William of Occam

First Known Use

1852, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near Occam's razor

Cite this Entry

“Occam's razor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Occam%27s%20razor. Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

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