What is Ockham’s Beard?
Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem
“Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Or “the simplest explanation is often the best.” Or just ‘Ockham’s Razor,’ named after the 14th century Franciscan monk who posited the notion, William of Ockham.
But Ockham’s Razor also speaks to the necessity of Ockham’s Beard: that which needs to be trimmed, the multiplicanda of ideas, theories, abstractions and philosophies that populate contemporary discourse. And while Ockham’s Razor is intuitively appealing, it’s only such because of the existence of Ockham’s Beard – and our intuitive propensity to postulate more entities than we really need.
But Ockham’s Beard also hints at a deeper insight: that any explanation, theory or even any string of propositions will necessarily have been abstracted from concrete reality. And in the process of abstraction, some detail, some subtle essence of the concrete is inevitably shaved away. So no abstract explanation can ever perfectly represent the concrete world, the noumenal world.
Thus, the simplest explanation might often be the best, but it’ll never be perfect.
His research looks at morality through the lens of evolution, specifically how a strangely social ape came to build on its altruistic tendencies to invent a cultural technology aimed at facilitating massively social and cooperative behaviour – and why evolution can also explain why we all disagree so damn much about the right way to live.
Tim is also an award winning science and technology writer, a former editor of Australian Life Scientist, Cosmos and PC Authority magazines. His writing has appeared in New Philosopher, New Scientist, Popular Science, Cosmos, The Conversation, The Drum, G Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, on ABC Radio National and numerous other outlets. You can contact Tim here to chat or to commission him for work, or follow him on Twitter here.