Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hitchens' and Other Razors

No 1 Son ,Thomas, sends me text messages from time to time with suggestions that I might like to do a Bytes thereon. The latest was an article with 6 Christopher Hitchens quotes.  Thomas is an admirer of Hitchens and his works.

Hitchens (1949-2011) was a British-American author and journalist who was known for his contrary views on various matters, notably on religion. Hitchens saw the concept of a God or a supreme being as destroying individual freedom. His view was that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.

One of the Hitchens quotations sent by Thomas has become known as Hitchens’ Razor (should it be Hitchens’s Razor?):

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

It is a commonsense approach to many things

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Some comments:

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In philosophy, a razor is a principle or premise that allows one to eliminate unlikely explanations for a phenomenon. 

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The full Hitchens’ quote:

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Hitchens was not the first to coin the phrase or the methodology expressed by it. The Latin proverb “Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur” has been widely used since the 19th century. It translates to “What is asserted without reason may be denied without reason”, meaning that if no grounds have been given for an assertion, then there are no grounds needed to reject it.

Hitchens’ use of the phrase in English and his reliance on the methodology expressed by it has brought it to greater public awareness .

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Another noted opponent of religion, Richard Dawkins has formulated a different version of the same law:

“The onus is on you to say why, the onus is not on the rest of us to say why not.”

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Some other razors:

Occam’s Razor:
When faced with competing hypotheses, select the one that makes the fewest assumptions
(sometimes paraphrased as the simplest explanation is usually the right one)

Popper’s falsifiability principle:
a theory can be scientific only if it is falsifiable, that what is unfalsifiable is unscientific
(don’t feel bad if you don’t understand this, I don’t get it either).

Newton’s flaming laser sword:
If something cannot be settled by experiment then it is not worthy of debate.

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Some philosophers have proposed anti-razors, for example:

Plenitude Principle:
Everything that can happen will happen eventually.
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