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On William of Ockham and his famous principle

 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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22 November 2013 12:26
 

This from Arthur Herman’s, The Cave and the Light-

“Ockham’s famous ‘razor’ principle extended the same principle to every branch of knowledge. If any idea or proposition is not required either as a matter of observation and demonstration or as a matter of religious faith, then scratch it out. Don’t clutter our brains with unneeded baggage; and don’t clutter our discussion about the world with them, either.

Ockham’s razor cut to shreds everything that was left of Plato’s forms and Neoplatonism’s Metaphysics. For example, why assume that God must have created a World Soul in order to carry out the rest of creation, as Plotinus and Christian Neoplatonists always did? Why assume two Gods when one will do? Why assume a Great Chain of Being or a celestial Hierarchy of divine emanations, if there is no direct evidence for them around us and we can talk about and understand the world without reference to either one? The same reasoning went for Thomas Aquinas’s notion that everything has an essence, which Summa says stands separate from existence and is nature’s way of revealing the thing’s divinely designed purpose. Cut out the essence talk, and suddenly we can discuss individuals as they appear before us, whole and complete.

Once Ockham’s razor got started, in fact not much was left standing. That included Averroes ‘double truth’. We need only one truth, Ockham affirms; the one reason derives from our senses. Religious faith, including faith in God, is an entirely separate matter. Religion is a matter of belief and will, not of reason or logical truth. Ockham took it for granted that absolutely nothing could be proved about God in the light of reason, not even his existence. At best, we get probable hints of his existence when we examine nature. Otherwise, nature is a closed book as far as theology and dogma are concerned.

Those are best left to the Church and those who control it’s doctrines, Ockham affirmed. As for the rest of us, let’s get on with life: freed of the burden of trying to reconcile faith with reason, we can plunge into the world with a new optimism and gusto-but also with the sense that we have been left pretty much to ourselves.”


This commentary made me think of Stephen Hawking’s comment from a short time back in his book ‘The Grand Design’ where he said that science has not disproven God, only rendered God unnecessary. This mindset seems to me to be an extension of Okham’s razor principle. Once speculation, conjecture and assumption are sliced out of the way, reason from logic and observation prevails. There then seems to be no real conflict between faith and reason, as reason renders faith unnecessary. However if one chooses faith because it appeals to them for enhancing their life, they then leave the razor in the drawer. But failing to yield the razor then greatly demeans faith as a universal and objective truth.

 
 
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23 November 2013 08:13
 

However if one chooses faith because it appeals to them for enhancing their life, they then leave the razor in the drawer. But failing to yield the razor then greatly demeans faith as a universal and objective truth.

Some people couldnt even understand Hawking, and find strength in their God. Also they are bound in a network of believers, family etc. How to extricate?  So would you advise they demean themselvs in the name of truth, and struggle to adapt as an atheist rather than live happily as a believer? That seems to make man the servant of truth, rather than truth the servant of man.

[ Edited: 23 November 2013 08:22 by Hypersoup]
 
 
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23 November 2013 11:45
 

Problem is, William of Ockham was a believer, so he himself didn’t think that his razor destroyed faith.  From Wiki:  “William of Ockham believed “only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover.”  Ockham’s theism was based solely on private revelation and faith (fideism). He believed that only science was a matter of discovery and saw God as the only ontological necessity.” 

So, here’s the guy who created the razor, and he’s saying - “it’s not meant to be used in that way.”  But now people are misusing it left and right.  William was absolutely right:  theism is based on private revelation from God and a faith response from Man.  God has chosen to reveal himself in one way, and that’s the only way he is discovered.

 
Hypersoup
 
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28 November 2013 08:05
 

True perhaps. I have had prvate religious experiences, and they have transformed my attitude. People argue its just my brain gone wrong, but then again they would. But from the inside, from the aspect of personal private experience, I have had my share of mystical experience and consequently I have become much more open to religion nowadays.

 
 
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28 November 2013 11:56
 
hypersoup - 28 November 2013 07:05 AM

True perhaps. I have had prvate religious experiences, and they have transformed my attitude. People argue its just my brain gone wrong, but then again they would. But from the inside, from the aspect of personal private experience, I have had my share of mystical experience and consequently I have become much more open to religion nowadays.

Yep. While those of us who have these experiences can’t legitimately say that we have 100% certainty of what they appear to reveal (the brain, after all, could be wrong), they can be so convincing as to change one’s life.  For me, this is where the most valid faith originates - not in the doctrines of organized religions, but in the subjective experience of people.

 
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28 November 2013 12:33
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 23 November 2013 10:45 AM

Problem is, William of Ockham was a believer, so he himself didn’t think that his razor destroyed faith.

Don’t commit a composition fallacy.
Just because William of Ockham was a person of faith does not mean that:
a) he would not have used is principal on questions of faith &
b) you could presume to know his actions or motivations long after his time.

 
 
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28 November 2013 12:36
 
hypersoup - 28 November 2013 07:05 AM

True perhaps. I have had prvate religious experiences, and they have transformed my attitude. People argue its just my brain gone wrong,

Maybe you’re misunderstanding their points?  I would say that it’s not a function of ‘gone wrong’ but simply that people have cognitive experiences that are difficult to explain - and much of the time the difficult explanations follow religious themes that are grounded in the surrounding social culture.

hypersoup - 28 November 2013 07:05 AM

...but then again they would. But from the inside, from the aspect of personal private experience, I have had my share of mystical experience and consequently I have become much more open to religion nowadays.

And in this you’re not alone.  But as we come to understand more and more how the brain functions and the cognitive structures that build up our experiential lives, a lot of the mysticism is being removed from the conversation.

 
 
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28 November 2013 13:19
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 10:56 AM
hypersoup - 28 November 2013 07:05 AM

True perhaps. I have had prvate religious experiences, and they have transformed my attitude. People argue its just my brain gone wrong, but then again they would. But from the inside, from the aspect of personal private experience, I have had my share of mystical experience and consequently I have become much more open to religion nowadays.

Yep. While those of us who have these experiences can’t legitimately say that we have 100% certainty of what they appear to reveal (the brain, after all, could be wrong), they can be so convincing as to change one’s life.  For me, this is where the most valid faith originates - not in the doctrines of organized religions, but in the subjective experience of people.

The problem with your attitude towards religion is this:  If one comes to a point in one’s life where one feels the need for a figure like Jesus and one start’s praying and asking for some sort of divine intervention, and one experiences a sort of epiphany, one cannot discount that this is entirely biological and nothing to do with any outside agent, in this world or a metaphysical world.  When we become extremely depressed, that alone can release brain chemicals to create a sense of euphoria which is just the body’s way of coping so that “thoughts” don’t end up destroying us.  Thoughts become very real particularly in women, for instance, who feel absolutely committed to parenting before giving birth but extremely depressed after birth. These thoughts are very real, just like the sensation of having found “the truth” in some religious idea. That, for me, is why I just feel like a fraud to myself if i start thinking there is sometihing out there which actually is actually going to intervene independently of my own coping mechanisms.  We all have “faith”...that the sun will shine tomorrow, grass will grow and life will continue…but that doesn’t mean we have to invent a host of metaphysical concepts which are beyond proof and bang on about them on forums as though we have some insight into the “real” “reality” of “everything”.  It is like taking a shortcut from Socratic ignorance to foolhardy “knowitallism” with no rational thinking going on.  “My principles are good enough…they explain everything…hey, I must be right…divine even”...That is how you come across.

 
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28 November 2013 13:31
 
delta bravo, to Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 12:19 PM

The problem with your attitude towards religion is this:  If one comes to a point in one’s life where one feels the need for a figure like Jesus and one start’s praying and asking for some sort of divine intervention, and one experiences a sort of epiphany, one cannot discount that this is entirely biological and nothing to do with any outside agent, in this world or a metaphysical world.  When we become extremely depressed, that alone can release brain chemicals to create a sense of euphoria which is just the body’s way of coping so that “thoughts” don’t end up destroying us.  Thoughts become very real particularly in women, for instance, who feel absolutely committed to parenting before giving birth but extremely depressed after birth. These thoughts are very real, just like the sensation of having found “the truth” in some religious idea. That, for me, is why I just feel like a fraud to myself if i start thinking there is sometihing out there which actually is actually going to intervene independently of my own coping mechanisms.  We all have “faith”...that the sun will shine tomorrow, grass will grow and life will continue…but that doesn’t mean we have to invent a host of metaphysical concepts which are beyond proof and bang on about them on forums as though we have some insight into the “real” “reality” of “everything”.  It is like taking a shortcut from Socratic ignorance to foolhardy “knowitallism” with no rational thinking going on.  “My principles are good enough…they explain everything…hey, I must be right…divine even”...That is how you come across.

I doubt Ecurb will take offense at your attempt to characterize him as a person who comes across poorly, because the paragraph you just wrote doesn’t make a point. It only exudes your feelings about what you seem to think of him. Are you aware of Ecurb’s actual Christian philosophy? Or that he has a gone to great lengths attempting to reform Old-Testament fundamentalism? What, specifically have you done in this regard, DB? Other than to incompetently mock a legitimate thinker.

 
 
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28 November 2013 15:09
 
Jefe - 28 November 2013 11:33 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 23 November 2013 10:45 AM

Problem is, William of Ockham was a believer, so he himself didn’t think that his razor destroyed faith.

Don’t commit a composition fallacy.
Just because William of Ockham was a person of faith does not mean that:
a) he would not have used is principal on questions of faith &
b) you could presume to know his actions or motivations long after his time.

I know that he was a believer and I know that he believed in faith based on personal revelation.  So, obviously, he didn’t apply his method to his faith, or if he did, it survived the test.

 
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28 November 2013 15:13
 
nonverbal - 28 November 2013 12:31 PM
delta bravo, to Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 12:19 PM

The problem with your attitude towards religion is this:  If one comes to a point in one’s life where one feels the need for a figure like Jesus and one start’s praying and asking for some sort of divine intervention, and one experiences a sort of epiphany, one cannot discount that this is entirely biological and nothing to do with any outside agent, in this world or a metaphysical world.  When we become extremely depressed, that alone can release brain chemicals to create a sense of euphoria which is just the body’s way of coping so that “thoughts” don’t end up destroying us.  Thoughts become very real particularly in women, for instance, who feel absolutely committed to parenting before giving birth but extremely depressed after birth. These thoughts are very real, just like the sensation of having found “the truth” in some religious idea. That, for me, is why I just feel like a fraud to myself if i start thinking there is sometihing out there which actually is actually going to intervene independently of my own coping mechanisms.  We all have “faith”...that the sun will shine tomorrow, grass will grow and life will continue…but that doesn’t mean we have to invent a host of metaphysical concepts which are beyond proof and bang on about them on forums as though we have some insight into the “real” “reality” of “everything”.  It is like taking a shortcut from Socratic ignorance to foolhardy “knowitallism” with no rational thinking going on.  “My principles are good enough…they explain everything…hey, I must be right…divine even”...That is how you come across.

I doubt Ecurb will take offense at your attempt to characterize him as a person who comes across poorly, because the paragraph you just wrote doesn’t make a point. It only exudes your feelings about what you seem to think of him. Are you aware of Ecurb’s actual Christian philosophy? Or that he has a gone to great lengths attempting to reform Old-Testament fundamentalism? What, specifically have you done in this regard, DB? Other than to incompetently mock a legitimate thinker.


Hmmm…

It seems like this forum is full of very “touchy” people who have esoteric/trendy/cool ideas about religion which aren’t really anything to do with secularism.

What on earth has a person who is reforming Old Testament fundamentalism doing here?  I just don’t get it, nor do I get anything in relation to what you describe as “legitimate thinking”.  So, no, I haven’t done anything to familiarize myself with his thinking because I didn’t come here to engage in discussions with religious “believers”, whatever their persuasion and I consider the whole notion of religiosity to be the antithesis of legitimate thinking. In fact, it is an abandonment of thinking in favour of a lot of jargon and twaddle.

As for his view, I think it was his, of Occam’s razor, I don’t think he applies it to his own thinking. If anyone came to me with a book about fantastical happenings two thousand years ago I would simply ignore it as irrelevant hocus pocus which is the simple thing to do because it doesn’t add anything at all to our understanding of what the world is about.  We have advanced beyond the need to figure out whether there is a real “Paul” character and whether he met a man who was or might have been a model for a Jesus character.  The plain and simple fact is that rulers in those days used cults to govern and there is plenty of evidence of that…but if I mention Atwill on what is an open public forum where that idea should be met with open mindedness I get a group of cronies calling me “fringe”, while, at the same time Richard Dawkins is advertising Atwill’s conference in London on his own site. 

Do you really expect me to take your comments seriously?

[ Edited: 28 November 2013 15:21 by deltabravo]
 
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28 November 2013 15:14
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 02:09 PM
Jefe - 28 November 2013 11:33 AM
Ecurb Noselrub - 23 November 2013 10:45 AM

Problem is, William of Ockham was a believer, so he himself didn’t think that his razor destroyed faith.

Don’t commit a composition fallacy.
Just because William of Ockham was a person of faith does not mean that:
a) he would not have used is principal on questions of faith &
b) you could presume to know his actions or motivations long after his time.

I know that he was a believer and I know that he believed in faith based on personal revelation.  So, obviously, he didn’t apply his method to his faith, or if he did, it survived the test.

Or maybe the information he had during his time did not include the knowledge we now have about human cognitive structures.

 
 
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28 November 2013 15:19
 

As I noted on another thread, there is a second principle of William:

“Typically, there’s no real reason to discard one’s experience, however, unless one’s narrative about that experience ceases to work.  There are aspects of my socialization that I’ve discarded over time (certain religious viewpoints, doctrines and practices, for example).  But if the core belief works just fine, then the axiom “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play.  I think Occam also came up with that one - it’s called Occam’s Aftershave.”

This principle is not as well known, but I discovered it after researching the Wikipedia articles on the man.

 
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28 November 2013 15:22
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 02:19 PM

As I noted on another thread, there is a second principle of William:

“Typically, there’s no real reason to discard one’s experience, however, unless one’s narrative about that experience ceases to work.  There are aspects of my socialization that I’ve discarded over time (certain religious viewpoints, doctrines and practices, for example).  But if the core belief works just fine, then the axiom “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play.  I think Occam also came up with that one - it’s called Occam’s Aftershave.”

This principle is not as well known, but I discovered it after researching the Wikipedia articles on the man.

So you approve of rolling with potential false-positive?
No biggie to me. 

As I’ve said before, no skin off my back if you choose to disregard the razor in examination of your beliefs, so long as those beliefs do not lead you to cause harm, or encourage others to cause harm.

*That being said, you have to admit that Wm. didn’t have access to the same body of knowledge about experiential recall and cognitivie structures that we have here in the 21 century.

 
 
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28 November 2013 15:28
 

I don’t mind applying Occam’s Razor to my beliefs, as long as I can use Occam’s Aftershave when it’s over.

Here goes:

I’ve had experiences in which I encountered the living Christ.

  Some possible explanations for this include:

  1) Christ exists and is alive;
  2) This all happened in my brain and has nothing to do with objective reality;
  3) Aliens did it.

I’ve never had a known encounter with an alien, so I’ll eliminate #3.

So, I’m left with “Christ exists and is alive” and “this all happened in my brain and has nothing to do with objective reality.”  I don’t know how to assign a probability to “Christ exists and is alive”, so as far as I know, it’s as likely as “this all happened in my brain.” 

So, since my choice (“Christ is alive”) has worked out for me, I’ll apply Occam’s Aftershave and go on my merry way, harming no one, including myself.

 
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28 November 2013 15:29
 
Jefe - 28 November 2013 02:22 PM
Ecurb Noselrub - 28 November 2013 02:19 PM

As I noted on another thread, there is a second principle of William:

“Typically, there’s no real reason to discard one’s experience, however, unless one’s narrative about that experience ceases to work.  There are aspects of my socialization that I’ve discarded over time (certain religious viewpoints, doctrines and practices, for example).  But if the core belief works just fine, then the axiom “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play.  I think Occam also came up with that one - it’s called Occam’s Aftershave.”

This principle is not as well known, but I discovered it after researching the Wikipedia articles on the man.

So you approve of rolling with potential false-positive?
No biggie to me. 

As I’ve said before, no skin off my back if you choose to disregard the razor in examination of your beliefs, so long as those beliefs do not lead you to cause harm, or encourage others to cause harm.

*That being said, you have to admit that Wm. didn’t have access to the same body of knowledge about experiential recall and cognitivie structures that we have here in the 21 century.


Well put.  I think the problem is that he doesn’t actually understand what Occam’s Razor is.  The whole idea that ideas are “ok” if they don’t hurt anyone militates in favor of a society in which it is “ok” to “believe” in Santa and the Easter Bunny as an adult because it doesn’t hurt anyone.  Hey, maybe he has something…a wholesale retreat from anything that is hurtful and into a world which is entirely absorbed in the “warm and cuddly”.

 
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