Problems With Occam’s Razor (A Fallacy?)

What Is Occam’s Razor?

Occam’s Razor is a principle that says you shouldn’t multiply entities unnecessarily. In other words, don’t select a way of explaining something that has assumptions it doesn’t need to have.

This notion of simplicity usually has two parts, that of ontological simplicity, which refers to the number of things postulated to explain an event, and syntactic simplicity, which refers to the complexity of the hypothesis.

For example, consider the two explanations for lightening. Lightening is caused by electrons coming from a cloud. Versus, lightening is caused by electrons coming from a cloud, caused by Zeus. The first is ontologically more simple in that it doesn’t require another entity’s existence to explain the situation.

A Fallacy?

Occam’s Razor doesn’t strictly qualify as a fallacy, since fallacies are patterns that lead to mistaken beliefs or conclusions. Occam’s Razor certainly underlies much of the science we use every day. While it has problems, it isn’t conclusively bad.

Attacking And Defending Occam’s Razor

Debaters can appeal to Occam’s Razor, arguing that their explanation has fewer assumptions, or that the opponent’s explanation is unnecessarily bloated.

Take down an Occam’s Razor argument by arguing that your assumption is necessary to explain some element of the argument. Say that the other side can take out that assumption but they also lose the ability to fully explain some experience or fact. The easiest way to do this is to focus the audience on the weaknesses of the other side’s case. Use questions to point out how the other side falls short on explanatory power.

Argue that the other side is violating Occam’s Razor by saying that you can explain the situation with fewer assumptions. Since they are adding another assumption in order to explain a situation, the burden of proof is on them to explain why they need that additional assumption. Often dogged stubbornness is they key to forcing the other side into accepting the burden of proof.

Learn more about debate skills and tricks here.

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