Miniatures: On Simplicity and Razors

i. on razors

Occam’s Razor:

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necesitate. … Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.

The Latin can be interpreted:

Pluralities should not be posited unnecessarily. For in vain is made through several things what can be done by fewer.

The Razor is a heuristic, a rule of thumb to guide reasoning. When confronted with two arguments that make the same conclusion, the simpler of the two is more likely to be trustworthy. When points of argument are unnecessary to come to a conclusion, the Razor seeks to cut them out.

The Razor is also a weapon.


ii. on simplicity


iii. on common sense

​One type of American invocation of common sense has become among conservatives a rallying cry against critical thinking as such. Common sense has come to stand for the ennobled rural logic that says “I call things as I see them;” this is the principle that one’s gut reaction is most reliable or at least the most honest.

​But of course this approach will always favor ingrained or conservative judgments, since when encountering something strange, new, or oppositional, our gut reaction tends to reject or shrink away from it. The American idea of common sense tends to value simplicity, reject complexity and nuance, and put a premium on position rather than discourse.

​Common sense becomes impregnable. A Razor of its own.

Successful ideologies are often thought to render their beliefs natural and self-evident–to identify them with the ‘common sense’ of a society so that nobody could imagine how they might ever be different. … [N]aturalization is part of the dehistoricizing thrust of ideology, its tacit denial that ideas and beliefs are specific to a particular time, place and social group.

(Eagleton, Terry. Ideology: an Introduction1991)

iv. reprise: on razors

How then do we expand ourselves. Must we come to recognize our own preconceptions? Critical thought would seem to demand it.

Otherwise, when we pull the razor on our friend, how can we be sure our objection is founded in the need for sound logic rather than our own lack of understanding?

How can we be sure our standards for the reasoning of others isn’t just alignment with our own unexamined assumptions about the world? For,

there is no position free of theory, not even the one called ‘common sense.’

(Leitch et al., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001)

v. on the construction of questions

Hamfists cannot ask questions, or if they can, they do not. The interrogative is the opposite of judgment.
Could it be
that questions build other bridges
while razors cut the river
down to size?
Matters of infrastructure
​take over.
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Published by:

Jedd Cole

Jedd Cole is a writer and scholar of literature, language, theory and philosophy. He studied rhetoric, writing and Spanish at University of Cincinnati. He produces video essays on the Electric Didact YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/electricdidact. Find his fiction and other recent work at electricdidact.wordpress.com.

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