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Philosophical "Razors"

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I had a moment today where I realized a few things I "knew" were connected in a way that I'd never considered before.

I've long known of Occam's Razor; "The correct conclusion is usually the one with the fewest assumptions".

Today I saw a reference to Hanlon's Razor; "Never attribute to malice, that which is adequately explained by stupidity".

I'd definitely encountered Hanlon's Razor before, but today it struck me that I'd never asked myself why these things are called "Razor".

Turns out a "Philosophical Razor" is a philosophical principle which allows one to eliminate or "shave off" unlikely explanations for phenomenon so as to avoid unnecessary actions.

I'd simplify that to, learning to smell it, before you step in it, and track it into places it doesn't belong.

I was very gratified to learn that there are quite a few well-known philosophical razors.

Hitchen's Razor: "What can be asserted without evidence, can also be dismissed without evidence".

Enstein's Razor (paraphrased): "As simple as possible, but no simpler"

I'd love to hear your favorites!

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Lol, great as usual. Mine isnt sharp enough to be a Razor, but is often debated no matter how many nouns you substitute. "How many angels fit on the head of a pin".

Looking forward to more sharp Razors. 

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I just did a quick search and found a few. I won't list them all. Hopefully, others will be encouraged to look some up, too. I found it surprisingly interesting.

Turns out the "duck test" is a razor. As in, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck."

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  I have heard of Occam's Razor but never bothered to look up it, or "razors" meaning.  Razors are an interesting subject as Hefty says.  Heres one I found.

Tarzwell’s Razor.
“Where there is passion, the truth cannot be trusted.” With great emotion comes great bias.

Edited by Scott NC
Found a Better Razor
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23 hours ago, anvil said:

"How many angels fit on the head of a pin".

Not actually a Razor; the "head of a pin" business was coined by 17th century Protestant critics of medieval Scholastic theology, as a supposed example of the kind of pointless debate that occupied Roman Catholic philosophers. (Much like the myth that medieval Europeans thought that the world was flat, it has little basis in actual history.) Indeed, it's rather the opposite of a Razor, as it serves to multiply debate rather than to simplify it.

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I like Newton's Flaming Laser Sword (much sharper and more dangerous than a razor): That which cannot be proved or disproved by experiment is not worth debating.

This, of course, removes much philosophy and religion from debate since those are subjects which cannot be empirically proved or disproved.

John, the answer to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is obvious, all of them since God can do anything.


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  I bet people make up their own Razors to suit their purposes and beliefs.  What defines a legitimate Razor?  Is there a Razor for shaving off phony Razors so no time is wasted on contemplating them?  Each Razor I have read can be twisted all kinds of ways to mean what one wants to believe.  Well, maybe not the duck one.

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Heres one,,, and its original,,,

"If a blacksmith creates a Razor, is it hand forged?"

And, of course, if a welder makes one,,, is it fabricated?

Which brings up the obvious,,,

Is there more truth and wisdom in one thats forged rather than one that is fabricated? 

A sharp Razor with a cutting edge,,,,  ;)  

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Hehe, my mother said that time and again to my older brother and he had to suffer the same as her!

I've also found myself, in multiple different contexts just this week, noticing how fitting Hanlon's razor (mentioned above) is.

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Lots of good replies.

Scott NC. I suppose someone might have a preferred shortcut to trimming unlikely explanations for phenomena they encounter. I'm not sure that kind of shortcut has much utility when tested by others.  

I think the whole concept relies upon the motivation of the individual assessing it.

Some people encounter uncertainty in complex situations and immediately withdraw to the last known boundary for solid ground.  I see it in estimation where people default to worst case scenarios, limited only by their imagination and the depth of their fears.  They don't know what they're doing, and they're only concerned with how badly that situation might hurt them.

To those people, there's no point in even trying to learn anything about the great scary beast of the unknown.

Other people assume every new thing, is made of parts they're familiar with.  Sorta like the Taco bell menu.  They'll squint at a distance until the phenomena starts looking like beans on a tortilla.  

The goal for these people is to avoid belaboring the timely dismissal of phenomena so they can resume the comfort of certainty.

Philosophy wasn't always a frustrating exercise in aesthetic bickering.  It used to be useful for determining what we really know, and for inquiring after that which we don't fully understand.  I think of it as structured curiosity, working to bring ordered understanding.

In my experience, the pursuit of knowledge tends to be pretty frustrating for two reasons.  The first, is the humbling realization that it's often tough to defend what I thought I knew.  The second, is that I lose a lot of time pursuing wrong explanations.

One of the most significant realizations I've had in all of this, is the almost magical power of "don't care".  I learned about it in a Boolean Logic class.  See we can imagine complex systems of cause and effect where we can map out every single combination of inputs, and outputs.  A specific case of all possible inputs leading to all defined outputs, will only be possible through a very specific boolean circuit.

Now there are tons of situations where certain combinations of inputs can never, and will never, happen.  So we don't have to care about what the outputs might be in those impossible scenarios.  This leads to several boolean circuits which are all capable of meeting the design criteria. 

If Philosophy is "working backwards" from a completed logic circuit, we can, and often do, spend an incredible amount of time mapping out the intricacies of a "don't care" scenario.  Everything we've painstakingly proven, relies upon foolish assumptions of how things are actually combined in real life.  If we don't go about trimming foolish pursuits, we'll never get to truth.



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Interesting insights into your philosophy. Perhaps I have a better understanding into your thoughts on craftsman and their place in your world of high tech contemporary construction. ;)    

15 hours ago, rockstar.esq said:

If we don't go about trimming foolish pursuits, we'll never get to truth

Who defines "foolish"?  I believe there are far more who aren't craftsmen that define its pursuit as foolish, than those who are successful as craftsmen.  

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