The Principle of Parsimony

  title={The Principle of Parsimony},
  author={Elliott Sober},
  journal={The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science},
  pages={145 - 156}
  • E. Sober
  • Published 1 June 1981
  • Philosophy
  • The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
The principle of parsimony has typically been described and defended as if it were a deletion rule, counseling agnosticism. Ockham, followed by those after him who liked the razor to which he gave his name, says that a hypothesis should not be asserted, or an entity postulated, if it is not needed to explain anything (Boehner [1957]). The razor slices away; it tells us to remove what is unnecessary. Modern justifications of parsimoniousness have presupposed this formulation of the principle… 
The Quest for Ontological Parsimony 1. the Use of Parsimony in Philosophy
  • Philosophy
Hereafter, I use " parsimony " and " ontological simplicity " interchangeably, to refer to the kind of simplicity that consists in limiting the number of (kinds of) things posited by a theory, where
Physicalism and the burden of parsimony
Parsimony considerations are ubiquitous in the literature concerning the nature of mental states. Other things being equal, physicalist views are preferred over dualist accounts on the grounds of the
A parsimonious view of the parsimony principle in ecology and evolution
It is concluded that invoking the parsimony principle in ecology and evolution is particularly important in model‐building programs in which models are viewed primarily as an operational tool to make predictions and in which data play a prominent role in deciding the structure of the model.
Modified Occam's Razor: Parsimony, Pragmatics, and the Acquisition of Word Meaning
:  Advocates of linguistic pragmatics often appeal to a principle which Paul Grice called Modified Occam's Razor: ‘Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’. Superficially, Grice's principle
Properties are Potatoes? An Essay on Ontological Parsimony
The technique of cost/benefit analysis is standard fare in contemporary ontology: we measure how a theory performs along a variety of dimensions (simplicity, coherence with intuitions etc.) and then
Avoiding “False Alarms” and “Misses” in Psychological Theory Building: Complementing the Principle of Parsimony With the Principle of Tentative Affirmation
Scientific parsimony is a reliable safeguard against speculative or ideological theorizing. But it can also hamper the advent of novel ideas and advanced paradigms if misapplied within the context of
Why it doesn’t matter whether the virtues are truth-conducive
Inference to the best explanation (IBE) says that the hypothesis most likely to be true is the one that scores best on the explanatory virtues: conservatism, modesty, simplicity, generality, and predictive power.
Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism
  • E. Sober
  • Philosophy
    Philosophy of Science
  • 1980
Ernst Mayr has argued that Darwinian theory discredited essentialist modes of thought and replaced them with what he has called "population thinking". In this paper, I characterize essentialism as
Occam’s Razor in science: a case study from biogeography
The question I wish to address in this paper is whether Occam’s Razor is a methodological principle of science, and potential connections between attitudes towards parsimony in science and in philosophy.
Add Parsimony and Stir . . . Exploring the Explanation of State Crime
In recent years there has been an attempt to develop a single, general theory of state crime. The procedure used for this purpose has involved ad hoc theorizing and thick descriptions based on


Mysticism and Logic
Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or confutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists, in the last analysis, of
On What There Is
In this paper I begin by considering some remarks of Professor W. V. Quine’s on what he calls ‘the ontological problem’.1 Professor Quine holds that from the fact that a sign has meaning it does not,
Mind—body identity, privacy and categories
Current controversies about the Mind—Body Identity Theory form a case-study for the investigation of the methods practised by linguistic philosophers. Recent criticisms of these methods question that
From a Logical Point of View
It is the wish of the author to keep general terms distinct from abstract singular terms, so that the over-all dis­ pensability of some assumption that has always rankled as ad hoc and unintuitive is discovered.
The principle of natural selection as the motive force for evolution was framed by Darwin in terms of a "struggle for existence" on the part of organisms living in a finite and risky environment. The
Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour.
Wynne-Edwards has written this interesting and important book as a sequel to his earlier (1962) Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour. Reviewing it has proven to be a valuable task for
On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
It is known that Maxwell's electrodynamics—as usually understood at the present time—when applied to moving bodies, leads to asymmetries which do not appear to be inherent in the phenomena. Take, for
1980c]: 'Significant Units and the Group Selection Controversy
  • Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association,
  • 1980