Everyone knows of Ockham’s razor, but few are aware of the razor-sharp medieval writers spanning the millennium from the 5th to the 15th centuries.
Razors standing against the darkness that the medieval period is often accused of. Razors cutting through the thicket of ignorance. Writers on the cutting edge of thought.
William Ockham, after whom the ‘razor’ is named, was a sharp fellow. As one of the most influential philosophers of the Middle Ages, he should be remembered for far more than the so-called law of parsimony – something over which he’s also often misunderstood.
The simplest explanation is most likely the right one. Between two models, the one which is less complex is to be preferred. If it’s unnecessarily heavy, cut it out. With a razor. Simple, elegant, clear. Like a piano suite by Philip Glass.
Ockham made lasting contributions to many fields of knowledge. In political thought, he developed ideas leading to modern understandings of government and political responsibility. In logic, his ideas cut sharper than blade. In epistemology, the razor was to the rest of his ideas what a razorblade is to a katana. He was an indefatigable writer whose books can fill many a shelf.
Along with Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus Robert Grosseteste, and others, Ockham created the space for ideas that became mainstream during the Renaissance and beyond. Like everyone else, he was sitting on the shoulders of giants looking farther and clearer than anyone else before him. Unlike the razor, his ideas are not simple, and many are still debated today.
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