Philosophy:Philosophical razor

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Short description: Principle that allows one to eliminate unlikely explanations

In philosophy, a razor is a principle or rule of thumb that allows one to eliminate ("shave off") unlikely explanations for a phenomenon, or avoid unnecessary actions.[1][2][3]


Razors include:

  • Alder's razor (also known as Newton's flaming laser sword): If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, then it is not worthy of debate.[4]
  • Einstein's razor: "The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."[5][6][7] Often paraphrased as "make things as simple as possible, but no simpler."
  • Grice's razor (also known as Giume's razor): As a principle of parsimony, conversational implications are to be preferred over semantic context for linguistic explanations.[8][9]
  • Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.[10]
  • Hitchens's razor: That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.[11]
  • Hume's guillotine: What ought to be cannot be deduced from what is; prescriptive claims cannot be derived solely from descriptive claims, and must depend on other prescriptions. "If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect."[12][13]
  • Occam's razor: Explanations which require fewer unjustified assumptions are more likely to be correct; avoid unnecessary or improbable assumptions.
  • Popper's falsifiability principle: For a theory to be considered scientific, it must be falsifiable.[14]
  • Sagan standard: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.[15]

See also


  1. Garg, Anu (17 May 2010). "Occam's razor". A.Word.A.Day. 
  2. Downie, R. S. (November 1989). "Moral Philosophy". The Invisible Hand. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 213–222. ISBN 9781349203130. 
  3. McLean, Sheila A. M., ed (2013). First Do No Harm: Law, Ethics and Healthcare. Ashgate. ISBN 9781409496199. 
  4. Alder, Mike (2004). "Newton's Flaming Laser Sword". Philosophy Now 46: 29–33. Retrieved 26 January 2018.  Also available in PDF format: Alder, Mike (2004). "Newton's Flaming Laser Sword". Mike Alder's Home Page. University of Western Australia. 
  5. Einstein, Albert (1934). "On the Method of Theoretical Physics". Philosophy of Science 1 (2): 165 [163–169]. doi:10.1086/286316. ISSN 0031-8248. 
  6. Mettenheim, Christoph von (1998). Popper Versus Einstein: On the Philosophical Foundations of Physics. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 34. ISBN 978-3-16-146910-7. 
  7. Geis, Gilbert; Bienen, Leigh B. (1998). Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O.J. Simpson. UPNE. pp. 39. ISBN 978-1-55553-360-1. 
  8. Hazlett, A. (2007). "Grice's razor". Metaphilosophy 38 (5): 669. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9973.2007.00512.x. 
  9. "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 
  10. "Hanlon's Razor". The Jargon File 4.4.7. 
  11. Ratcliffe, Susan, ed (2016). Oxford Essential Quotations: Facts (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191826719. Retrieved 4 November 2020. "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." 
  12. Miles, M. (2003). Inroads: Paths in Ancient and Modern Western Philosophy. University of Toronto Press. p. 543. ISBN 978-0802037442. 
  13. Forrest, P. (2001). "Counting the cost of modal realism". in Preyer, G.; Siebelt, F.. Reality and Humean Supervenience: Essays on the Philosophy of David Lewis. Studies in Epistemology and Cognitive Theory. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 93. ISBN 978-0742512016. 
  14. Popper, Karl (1972). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson. ISBN 9780091117207. 
  15. Sagan, Carl (2021). Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-33689-7.