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Occam's Razor

Last updated: 8 April 2023

Occam's Razor illustration
The simplest explanation is often the best

Occam’s Razor is an influential problem-solving principle from the Middle Ages that states, “The simplest solution is usually the correct one.” This idea has largely been attributed to 14th-century philosopher and theologian William of Ockham, though its roots extend to ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.


Occam’s Razor traces back to 14th-century English Franciscan friar William of Ockham, who wrote, “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” This concept, along with his other works, is often referred to as Ockhamism and forms the basis for Occam's Razor.

Occam’s Razor appeared in various philosophical and scientific works throughout history, including René Descartes, who used it to analyze competing scientific theories. Philosopher David Hume also adopted this principle into his methodology, calling it the “principle of parsimony.” In more recent times, physicist Albert Einstein famously referred to Occam's Razor as the “good old maxim…that entities should not be multiplied needlessly.”

How it works

Occam's Razor is a problem-solving tool that helps people identify the best option based on simplicity and the likelihood of accuracy. The principle suggests that when presented with multiple solutions or explanations for a phenomenon, one should prioritize the simplest option as it contains fewer assumptions and is more likely to be true than complicated ones with many assumptions. If two explanations are equal in terms of likelihood and accuracy, then choosing the simpler one will give you a better outcome in most cases.

How to use it

When using Occam's Razor to solve a problem or answer a question, consider both sides of an argument or hypothesis before making any conclusions. For example, if someone is trying to explain why an event occurred, they should look at all potential causes before settling on any one explanation. If two reasons are equally likely, they should choose the simpler one because it will require fewer assumptions and may be more accurate than a complex explanation with many assumptions.


In medicine, doctors use Occam’s Razor to diagnose illnesses. Rather than trying every possible treatment for an ailment, they can determine which treatment is most likely. Another example can be found in engineering, where engineers use this principle to create efficient designs by eliminating unnecessary components from their products. Finally, this principle can also be used in economics and sociology by examining data points through simple models rather than more complex ones that may contain hidden flaws or biases.


  • When presented with multiple solutions or explanations for a phenomenon, prioritize the simplest.
  • Simpler options contain fewer assumptions and are more likely to be true than complicated ones.


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