Jump to content
  • A Survey of Top-level Ontologies - Appendix I

    Detailed notes on 3.2.1 Basis 

A Survey of Top-level Ontologies-Appendix-I

  • I.1 Simplicity 

    The virtues of simplicity have been recognised since Aristotle (“We may assume the superiority ceteris paribus of the demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses” – Posterior Analytics) to Einstein (It can scarcely be denied that 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). 

    David Lewis describes the distinction between qualitative and quantitative parsimony in Counterfactuals and voiced his support for just qualitative parsimony: I subscribe to the general view that qualitative parsimony is good in a philosophical or empirical hypothesis; but I recognize no presumption whatever in favor of quantitative parsimony. 

    The restriction of Ockham’s razor to just fundamental entities is promoted by (Cameron, 2010), (Schaffer, 2010), and (Sider, 2013). (Schaffer, 2015, p. 647) dubs this version "The Laser" and formulates it as an injunction not to multiply fundamental entities beyond necessity, together with the implicit understanding that there is no such injunction against multiplying derivative entities. 

    I.2 Explanatory sufficiency 

    The principle has its origin in the same medieval controversies that spawned Occam's Razor. Ockham's contemporary, Walter of Chatton, proposed that: [I]f three things are not enough to verify an affirmative proposition about things, a fourth must be added, and so on. A related counter-principle was later defended by Kant: The variety of entities should not be rashly diminished (The Critique of Pure Reason). 

    [T]he grand aim of all science…is to cover the greatest possible number of empirical facts by logical deductions from the smallest possible number of hypotheses or axioms (Einstein, quoted in (Nash, 1963, p. 173)). 

    Einstein’s quote above respects the principle, when he says, “without having to surrender the adequate representation”. 


    Cameron, R. P. (2010). “How to have a radically minimal ontology.” Philosophical Studies, 151(2), 249–264. 

    Nash, L. K. (1963). “The nature of the natural sciences.” 

    Schaffer, J. (2010). “Monism: The priority of the whole.” Philosophical Review, 119(1), 31–76. 

    Schaffer, J. (2015). “What not to multiply without necessity.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 93(4), 644–664. 

    Sider, T. (2013). “Against parthood.” Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, 8(2013), 237–293. 

    See also: 

    Baker, A. (2016). “Simplicity.” In Edward N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simplicity

  • Create New...