When it comes to ad hoc debate, you can be certain of two things:

  1. It will escalate
  2. At some late point, someone will invoke a civilizing principle

Very often said principle will address one or more logical fallacies, and with good reason: they’re cheap and easy.  Humans are largely averse to complexity and we fall upon fallacy, logical or otherwise, to act as a simplifying emulsifier on a complex subject.  This is a consequence of unbridled optimism, and our penchant for delusional parsimony.

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” –Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) i.e. not Mark Twain

Which leads us to Occam’s Razor.

Ill-informed thought police would have you believe that this rule of logic beats the devil out of details, that it neatly corrals reality into narrow channels of whitewashed clarity.  The common definition is given thus:

“The simplest answer is usually the best answer.”

This 8-word bomb is triumphantly deployed when at least one unnerved participant discovers they are running out of ammunition, as another assembles a data-based case.  It’s a verbal slam-dunk, a firewall across which data must not penetrate; you have exceeded the human complexity threshold, therefore your argument is invalid.

Ah, but that’s not how the principle is actually defined!  It’s a bit more… complex than that.  So here’s how the Oxford dictionary defines it:

“The principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing, no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. The principle is often invoked to defend reductionism or nominalism.”

For the sake of lazy readers, we can reduce this (at the risk of argument to moderation) to TL;DR:

“The answer requiring the fewest assumptions is usually the best answer.”

Ah!  Assumption, the antithesis of fact!  Now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s easy to see, though, how the speeding thought police of the world arrive at the malformed definition.  They almost seem interchangeable.

The problem for these thought police is, there’s no direct correlation between assumptions and complexity here, at least, not in a logical sense.  If the complexity is developed or described by way of demonstrable evidence, rather than mere assumption, then it’s rock solid and Occam’s Razor doesn’t cut it.

Of course, those who willfully twist principles of logic aren’t going to diplomatically concede when you patiently explain proper use of this instrument.

That would be too easy.

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