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I am confused as to why any sort of discussion about Occam’s Razor, without fail, has the addendum mentioning how the tool doesn’t prove anything. But quite literally, unless something is logically necessary or self evidently false, you can never “logically” prove anything.

An inductive argument doesn’t imply truth. An abductive argument (which Occam’s razor is often used in domination with) doesn’t imply truth. Higher explanatory power doesn’t imply truth. Neither does wider explanatory scope. And nor does predictive power.

What is, in principle, different in Occam’s razor and other forms of techniques used in reasoning? Isn’t reasoning, especially when it comes to figuring out correct explanations, just an amalgamation of razors and techniques?

If so, why is this razor regularly singled out?

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    Are we talking random conversations with strangers on the internet? Sep 8, 2023 at 17:26
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    You should cite those in your original post then, instead of referring to nebulous discussions where this happens "without fail." Sep 8, 2023 at 17:31
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    @DikranMarsupial The point is, there's not much to go on if thinkingman is referring primarily to informal conversations he has had. No offense, but why should we care what you commented about Occam's Razor? If he's responding to elaborated arguments by respected, well-known thinkers, as documented in books, he should cite those so we have some hope of knowing what their reasoning was. Sep 8, 2023 at 17:42
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    @thinkingman, it is not even remotely the case that "a person who has read up on it for 5 years doesn’t know much more about the world, or even whether he is reasoning “correctly”, than a person who just read about it". Sep 8, 2023 at 17:51
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    @thinkingman - before we can address why this is "without fail" " regularly singled out" in this way, we need some documentation of the idea that it is in fact "regularly singled out" in this way. Sep 8, 2023 at 18:06

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It is easy for a laymen to assume that Occam's Razor has greater argumentative power than it actually does, so pointing out its limits can be helpful.

Occam's Razor is a very useful tool in philosophy and science. It is so useful and so often used implicitly if not explicitly that it is easy for a laymen who is not deeply steeped in formal logic and the limits of other forms of reasoning to believe it is absolute or nearly so. Because of that, even someone invoking Occam's Razor to support their argument might reasonably acknowledge its limits in the same breath.

And if you are countering an argument that makes use of Occam's Razor, then naturally you are likely to start by pointing out that its a rule of thumb and has severe limits. You may well not stop there and may provide further arguments, but you will almost certainly start there if the other side has invoked that.

Thus, you will see the reminder frequently that it has limits. A person using it will acknowledge the limits of the argument to be intellectually honest and a person attacking an argument that invokes it will almost necessarily start by pointing out its limits.

Its also worth noting that Occam's Razor is familiar to an average laymen on the street while terms like abductive reasoning are not. Someone who uses the term abductive reasoning with the expectation that the other side understands the term can safely assume that their conversational partner is probably familiar with its limits. On the other hand, many people have at least heard of Occam's Razor without necessarily understanding its limits. So, it makes sense in that way that discussion of the two will go together.

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The simplest explanation for people bringing this up in discussions that touch on Occam's Razor is that they have the impression that it's being treated as an axiom. The simplest explanation for this happening "without fail" in your discussions is that you're the one giving them that impression.

—William of Occam, probably

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An inductive argument doesn’t imply truth. An abductive argument (which Occam’s razor is often used in domination with) doesn’t imply truth. Higher explanatory power doesn’t imply truth. Neither does wider explanatory scope. And nor does predictive power.

Your claims are inaccurate. Induction does imply truth, but it does it probabilistically as opposed to certainly. And probable conclusions are capable of being true (though to debate this well, one has to have a grasp about the nature of truth and be familiar with the various theories and the contexts in which they arise historically). The entire apparatus of the natural and social sciences functions on induction, and as epistemological enterprises, their successes are irrefutable to the educated mind. Is there any type of truth in the public imagination more resilient than 'scientific truth'? But your misconceptions aside about truth (and it would behoove you to read the IEP's article on fallibilism and the SEP's article on defeasibility to understand how the philosophy of mind has dethroned deductive logic from gold standard to pragmatic, normative aspiration), it's an empirical matter why the public more broadly is dismissive of Occam's Razor; I speculate along these lines:

  1. There is a psychological aspect including cognitive biases and social forces that expresses itself as a longing in philosophy that permeates the entire Western canon: the drive towards certainty. It plays into philosophy itself in the epistemological domain, and especially after Laplacian determinism and Netwonian mechanics debut in history, there's a drive by philosophers to make reason as deterministic and mechanical as possible. This of course is what makes Frege famous with his invention of modern, symbolic logic. Logic is of course obsessed with certain logical consequence, and rightly so.

  2. Kant himself was typical of thinkers of the 17th to 19th century that deductive logic and the Laws of thought were the apex of reason and were disemobdied and objective. (Hint, they're not.) In fact, one might say inline with Quine that such a view tends to hold come what may by those who begin to study philosophy and logic. Most of the logic we are exposed to explicitly in our formal education is in math. In fact, the philosophical canon appreciably was recalcitrant to substantial deviations from this as a methodology until the middle of the 20th century, at least for the analytic philosophers.

  3. As such, there is still an under-appreciation for logical and metaphilosophical pluralism and aversion and a tendency towards seeing philosophy as a merely speculative enterprise; people prefer science to philosophy, though it's obvious after study the two are intimately conjoined. Many people come to this site, for example, unfamiliar with developments such as the linguistic turn, underdetermination, attacks on the analytic-synthetic distinction, and defeasibility in reason and very little knowledge of contemporary philosophy of science.

  4. The end result is that there tends to be a belief, probably cultivated by a combination of deference to Cartesian doubt and mathematical rigor and in popular media by fictional intellectual giants like Sherlock Holmes and House M.D. that reason is much less fallible than it actually is. In fact, fallibilism fundamentally seems to grate against our psychological need for certainty about our conclusions.

  5. In particular, the use of philosophical razors requires some skill in informal logic, which relies heavily on semantics or what one might refer to as "material logic", and as a heuristic (rather than algorithm), it's successful application requires a mastery of a number of skills such as those of informal reasoning, fallacies, and argumentation, that are hard to acquire and easy to misuse.

When you take all of these factors together, it's easy to be dismissive in argumentation of someone attempting to use Occam's Razor (particuarly because those most likely to abuse it might not even be familiar with other philosophical razors such as Hanlon's or Hitchen's). People who are just beginning to refine their skills of argumentation will be most likely to abuse the most famous of the philosophical razors.

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