A scientific theory, in order to be accepted as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, must satisfy both empirical and non-empirical requirements, the latter having to do with simplicity, unity, explanatory character, symmetry, beauty. No satisfactory, generally accepted account of such non-empirical requirements has so far been given. Here, a proposal is put forward which, it is claimed, makes a contribution towards solving the problem. This proposal concerns unity of physical theory. In order to satisfy the non-empirical requirement of (...) unity, a physical theory must be such that the same laws govern all possible phenomena to which the theory applies. Eight increasingly demanding versions of this requirement are distinguished. Some implications for other non-empirical requirements, and for our understanding of science are indicated. (shrink)
There are two problems of simplicity. What does it mean to characterize a scientific theory as simple, unified or explanatory in view of the fact that a simple theory can always be made complex (and vice versa) by a change of terminology? How is preference in science for simple theories to be justified? In this paper I put forward a proposal as to how the first problem is to be solved. The more nearly the totality of fundamental physical theory (...) exemplifies the metaphysical thesis that the universe has a unified dynamic structure, so the simpler that totality of theory is. What matters is content, not form. This proposed solution may appear to be circular, but I argue that it is not. Towards the end of the paper I make a few remarks about the second, justificational problem of simplicity. (shrink)
Descartes famously endorsed the view that (CD) God freely created the eternal truths, such that He could have done otherwise than He did. This controversial doctrine is much discussed in recent secondary literature, yet Descartes’s actual arguments for CD have received very little attention. In this paper I focus on what many take to be a key Cartesian argument for CD: that divine simplicity entails the dependence of the eternal truths on the divine will. What makes this argument both (...) important and interesting is that Descartes’s scholastic predecessors share the premise of divine simplicity but reject the CD conclusion. To properly understand Descartes, then, we must determine precisely where he diverges from his predecessors on the path from simplicity to CD. And when we do so we obtain a very surprising result: that despite many dramatic prima facie differences, there is no substantive difference between the relevant doctrines of Descartes and the scholastics . Or so I argue. (shrink)
In this paper we explore material simplicity, defined as the virtue disposing us to act appropriately within the sphere of our consumer decisions. Simplicity is a conscientious and restrained attitude toward material goods that typically includes (1) decreased consumption and (2) a more conscious consumption; hence (3) greater deliberation regarding our consumer decisions; (4) a more focused life in general; and (5) a greater and more nuanced appreciation for other things besides material goods, and also for (6) material (...) goods themselves. It is to be distinguished from simple-mindedness, a return to nature, or poverty. Simplicity overlaps with traditional virtues such as temperance, frugality, and wisdom, and sustains and enables traditional virtues such as justice and generosity. Simplicity is a virtue because it furthers human flourishing, both individual and social, and sustains nature’s ecological flourishing. For analytic purposes, we consider six areas in which simplicity can make important contributions: (1) basic individual flourishing, (2) basic societal flourishing, (3) individual freedom or autonomy, (4) the acquisition of knowledge, (5) living meaningfully, and (6) preserving and protecting nonhuman beings. The proven failure of materialism to secure subjective happiness or objective flourishing argues for the practice of voluntary simplicity and for the radical reform of modern consumer societies. (shrink)
I discuss Hume's views about whether simplicity and generality are positive features of explanations. In criticizing Hobbes and others who base their systems of morality on self interest, Hume diagnoses their errors as resulting from a "love of simplicity". These worries about whether simplicity is a positive feature of explanations emerge in Hume's thinking over time. But Hume does not completely reject the idea that it's good to seek simple explanations. What Hume thinks we need is good (...) judgment about when we are going too far in our search for simple explanations. These worries about simplicity are not unique to Hume. We can see versions of them in the work of Hutcheson, Smith, and Reid. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that a natural selection-based perspective gives reasons for thinking that the core of the ability to mindread cognitively complex mental states is subserved by a simulationist process—that is, that it relies on nonspecialised mechanisms in the attributer's cognitive architecture whose primary function is the generation of her own decisions and inferences. In more detail, I try to establish three conclusions. First, I try to make clearer what the dispute between simulationist and non-simulationist theories of mindreading (...) fundamentally is about. Second, I try to make more precise an argument that is sometimes hinted at in support of the former: this 'argument from simplicity' suggests that, since natural selection disfavours building extra cognitive systems where this can be avoided, simulationist theories of mindreading are more in line with natural selection than their competitors. As stated, though, this argument overlooks the fact that building extra cognitive systems can also yield benefits: in particular, it can allow for the parallel processing of multiple problems and it makes for the existence of backups for important elements of the organism's mind. I therefore try to make this argument more precise by investigating whether these benefits also apply to the present case—and conclude negatively. My third aim in this paper is to use this discussion of mindreading as a means for exploring the promises and difficulties of evolutionary arguments in philosophy and psychology more generally. (shrink)
The idea that simplicity matters in science is as old as science itself, with the much cited example of Ockham's Razor, 'entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem': entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. A problem with Ockham's razor is that nearly everybody seems to accept it, but few are able to define its exact meaning and to make it operational in a non-arbitrary way. Using a multidisciplinary perspective including philosophers, mathematicians, econometricians and economists, this monograph examines (...) class='Hi'>simplicity by asking six questions: What is meant by simplicity? How is simplicity measured? Is there an optimum trade-off between simplicity and goodness-of-fit? What is the relation between simplicity and empirical modelling? What is the relation between simplicity and prediction? What is the connection between simplicity and convenience? The book concludes with reflections on simplicity by Nobel Laureates in Economics. (shrink)
In this article, I explain how and why different attempts to defend absolute divine simplicity fail. A proponent of absolute divine simplicity has to explain why different attributions do not suppose a metaphysical complexity in God but just one superproperty, why there is no difference between God and His super-property and finally how a absolute simple entity can be the truthmaker of different intrinsic predications. It does not necessarily lead to a rejection of divine simplicity but it (...) shows that we may consider another conception of divine simplicity compatible with some metaphysical complexity in God. (shrink)
Simple assumptions represent a decisive reason to prefer one theory to another in everyday scientific praxis. But this praxis has little philosophical justification, since there exist many notions of simplicity, and those that can be defined precisely strongly depend on the language in which the theory is formulated. The language dependence is a natural feature—to some extent—but it is also believed to be a fatal problem, because, according to a common general argument, the simplicity of a theory is (...) always trivial in a suitably chosen language. But, this trivialization argument is typically either applied to toy-models of scientific theories or applied with little regard for the empirical content of the theory. This paper shows that the trivialization argument fails, when one considers realistic theories and requires their empirical content to be preserved . In fact, the concepts that enable a very simple formulation, are not necessarily measurable, in general. Moreover, the inspection of a theory describing a chaotic billiard shows that precisely those concepts that naturally make the theory extremely simple are provably not measurable. This suggests that—whenever a theory possesses sufficiently complex consequences—the constraint of measurability prevents too simple formulations in any language. This explains why the scientists often regard their assessments of simplicity as largely unambiguous. In order to reveal a cultural bias in the scientists’ assessment, one should explicitly identify different characterizations of simplicity of the assumptions that lead to different theory selections. General arguments are not sufficient. (shrink)
Almost all commentators acknowledge that among the grounds on which scientists perform theory-choices are criteria of simplicity. In general, simplicity is regarded either as only a logico-empirical quality of a theory, diagnostic of the theory's future predictive success, or as a purely aesthetic or otherwise extra-empirical property of it. This paper attempts to demonstrate that the simplicity-criteria applied in scientific practice include both a logico-empirical and a quasi-aesthetic criterion: to conflate these in an account of scientists' theory-choice (...) is to court confusion. (shrink)
Despite the United States' economic abundance, "the good life" has proved elusive. Millions long for more time for friends and family, for reading or walking or relaxing. Instead our lives are frantic, hectic, and harried. In Graceful Simplicity, Jerome M. Segal, philosopher, political activist, and former staff member of the House Budget Committee, expands and deepens the contemporary discourse on simple living. He articulates his conception of a politics of simplicity--one rooted in beauty, peace of mind, appreciativeness, and (...) generosity of spirit. (shrink)
The paper corrects misrepresentations of Aquinas's understanding of divine simplicity, argues that the reasons he gives for divine simplicity are persuasive ones, and suggests how Aquinas's account of the Trinity can be used to explain how God can be said to exist necessarily. It gives an account of Aquinas's conception of form and individualised form, and shows how Plantinga's criticism of Aquinas's position on divine simplicity rests on a misunderstanding of Aquinas's notion of form. It describes and (...) makes the case for Aquinas's argument that God must be absolutely simply because he is the uncaused cause of all effects, and any real composition in things constitutes an effect. It shows that Brian Davies is mistaken in claiming that Aquinas does not hold God's existence to be logically necessary. It applies Frege's conception of existence to Aquinas's account of God's simplicity and his psychological analogy for the Trinity, in order to explain how God's existence can coherently be said to be logically necessary. (shrink)
Two experiments were performed to explore the mechanisms of human 3D shape perception. In Experiment 1, the subjects’ performance in a shape constancy task in the presence of several cues (edges, binocular disparity, shading and texture) was tested. The results show that edges and binocular disparity, but not shading or texture, are important in 3D shape perception. Experiment 2 tested the effect of several simplicity constraints, such as symmetry and planarity on subjects’ performance in a shape constancy task. The (...) 3D shapes were represented by edges or vertices only. The results show that performance with or without binocular disparity is at chance level, unless the 3D shape is symmetric and/or its faces are planar. In both experiments, there was a correlation between the subjects’ performance with and without binocular disparity. Our study suggests that simplicity constraints, not depth cues, play the primary role in both monocular and binocular 3D shape perception. These results are consistent with our computational model of 3D shape recovery. (shrink)
Sometimes metaphysicians appeal to simplicity as a reason to prefer one metaphysical theory to another, especially when a philosophical dispute has otherwise reached a state of equilibrium. In this paper, I show that given a Quinean conception of metaphysics, several initially plausible justifications for simplicity as a metaphysical criterion do not succeed. If philosophers wish to preserve simplicity as a metaphysical criterion, therefore, they must radically reconceive the project of metaphysics.
Children learn their native language by exposure to their linguistic and communicative environment, but apparently without requiring that their mistakes be corrected. Such learning from “positive evidence” has been viewed as raising “logical” problems for language acquisition. In particular, without correction, how is the child to recover from conjecturing an over-general grammar, which will be consistent with any sentence that the child hears? There have been many proposals concerning how this “logical problem” can be dissolved. In this study, we review (...) recent formal results showing that the learner has sufficient data to learn successfully from positive evidence, if it favors the simplest encoding of the linguistic input. Results include the learnability of linguistic prediction, grammaticality judgments, language production, and form-meaning mappings. The simplicity approach can also be “scaled down” to analyze the learnability of specific linguistic constructions, and it is amenable to empirical testing as a framework for describing human language acquisition. (shrink)
Richard Dawkins has popularized an argument that he thinks sound for showing that there is almost certainly no God. It rests on the assumptions (1) that complex and statistically improbable things are more difficult to explain than those that are not and (2) that an explanatory mechanism must show how this complexity can be built up from simpler means. But what justifies claims about the designer’s own complexity? One comes to a different understanding of order and of simplicity when (...) one considers the psychological counterpart of information. In assessing his treatment of biological organisms as either self-programmed machines or algorithms, I show how self-generated organized complexity does not fit well with our knowledge of abduction and of information theory as applied to genetics. I also review some philosophical proposals for explaining how the complexity of the world could be externally controlled if one wanted to uphold a traditional understanding of divine simplicity. (shrink)
In a recent work, Popper claims to have solved the problem of induction. In this paper I argue that Popper fails both to solve the problem, and to formulate the problem properly. I argue, however, that there are aspects of Popper's approach which, when strengthened and developed, do provide a solution to at least an important part of the problem of induction, along somewhat Popperian lines. This proposed solution requires, and leads to, a new theory of the role of (...) class='Hi'>simplicity in science, which may have helpful implications for science itself, thus actually stimulating scientific progress. (shrink)
I examine the central atheistic argument of Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion (“Dawkins’s Gambit”) and illustrate its failure. I further show that Dawkins’s Gambit is a fragment of a more comprehensive critique of theism found in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Among the failings of Dawkins’s Gambit is that it is directed against a version of the God Hypothesis that few traditional monotheists hold. Hume’s critique is more challenging in that it targets versions of the God Hypothesis that (...) are central to traditional monotheism. Theists and atheists should put away The God Delusion and pick up Hume’s Dialogues. (shrink)
In this paper I explain several ways in which Descartes denied that the human soul or mind is composite and the role this idea played in his thought. The mind is whole in the whole and whole in the parts of the body because it has no parts. Unlike body, the mind is indivisible, and this is a different idea from the thought that mind and body are incorruptible. Descartes connects the immortality of the soul with its status as a (...) substance and as incorruptible rather than with its indivisibility. (shrink)
The problem of simplicity involves three questions: How is the simplicity of a hypothesis to be measured? How is the use of simplicity as a guide to hypothesis choice to be justified? And how is simplicity related to other desirable features of hypotheses -- that is, how is simplicity to be traded-off? The present paper explores these three questions, from a variety of viewpoints, including Bayesianism, likelihoodism, and the framework of predictive accuracy formulated by Akaike (...) (1973). It may turn out that simplicity has no global justification -- that its justification varies from problem to problem. (shrink)
Simplicity made difficult Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-8 DOI 10.1007/s11098-010-9626-9 Authors John MacFarlane, Department of Philosophy, University of California, 314 Moses Hall #2390, Berkeley, CA 94720-2390, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116.
The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that God is a substantia seu natura simplex omnino”—an “altogether simple substance or nature”—and the First Vatican Council reiterated the teaching. The doctrine of divine simplicity is at the center of Thomas’s..
In this article I assess the coherence of Jonathan Edwards's doctrine of divine simplicity as an instance of an actus purus account of perfect-being theology. Edwards's view is an idiosyncratic version of this doctrine. This is due to a number of factors including his idealism and the Trinitarian context from which he developed his notion of simplicity. These complicating factors lead to a number of serious problems for his account, particularly with respect to the opera extra sunt indivisa (...) principle. I conclude that Edwards sets out an interesting and subtle version of the doctrine, but one which appears mired in difficulties from which he is unable to extract himself. (shrink)
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, God is an absolutely simple being lacking any distinct metaphysical parts, properties, or constituents. Although this doctrine was once an essential part of traditional philosophical theology, it is now widely rejected as incoherent. In this paper, I develop an interpretation of the doctrine designed to resolve contemporary concerns about its coherence, as well as to show precisely what is required to make sense of divine simplicity.
There is a traditional theistic doctrine, known as the doctrine of divine simplicity, according to which God is an absolutely simple being, completely devoid of any metaphysical complexity. On the standard understanding of this doctrine—as epitomized in the work of philosophers such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—there are no distinctions to be drawn between God and his nature, goodness, power, or wisdom. On the contrary, God is identical with each of these things, along with anything else that can be (...) predicated of him intrinsically. (shrink)
In this paper I first try to clarify the essential features of tropes and then I use the resulting analysis to cope with the problem of mental causation. As to the first step, I argue that tropes, beside being essentially particular and abstract, are simple, where such a simplicity can be considered either from a phenomenal point of view or from a structural point of view. Once this feature is spelled out, the role tropes may play in solving the (...) problem of mental causation is evaluated. It is argued that no solution based on the determinable/determinate relation is viable without begging the question as regards the individuating conditions of the related properties. Next, it is shown that Robb’s solution, much in the spirit of Davidson’s anomalous monism, entails abandoning the assumption that tropes are essentially simple, a consequence that I find not acceptable. My conclusion is that these entities are of no help in solving the problem of mental causation, and that a universalist approach should be preferred. (shrink)
Among theories which ﬁt all of our data, we prefer the simpler over the more complex. Why? Surely not merely for practical convenience or aesthetic pleasure. But how could we be justiﬁed in this preference without knowing in advance that the world is more likely to be simple than complex? And isn’t this a rather extravagant a priori assumption to make? I want to suggest some steps we can take toward reducing this embarrassment, by showing that the assumption which supports (...) favouring simplicity is far more modest than it ﬁrst seems. (shrink)
According to many philosophical theologians, God is metaphysically simple: there is no real distinction among His attributes or even between attribute and existence itself. Here, I consider only one argument against the simplicity thesis. Its proponents claim that simplicity is incompatible with God's having created another world, since simplicity entails that God is unchanging across possible worlds. For, they argue, different acts of creation involve different willings, which are distinct intrinsic states. I show that this is (...) mistaken, by sketching an adequate account of reasons-guided activity that does not require distinct intrinsic states of willing corresponding to each possible act of creation. (shrink)
The article presents a new interpretation of Hume's treatment of personal identity, and his later rejection of it in the "Appendix" to the Treatise. Hume's project, on this interpretation, is to explain beliefs about persons that arise primarily within philosophical projects, not in everyday life. The belief in the identity and simplicity of the mind as a bundle of perceptions is an abstruse belief, not one held by the "vulgar" who rarely turn their minds on themselves so as to (...) think of their perceptions. The author suggests that it is this philosophical observation of the mind that creates the problems that Hume finally acknowledges in the "Appendix." He is unable to explain why we believe that the perceptions by means of which we observe our minds while philosophizing are themselves part of our minds. This suggestion is then tested against seven criteria that any interpretation of the "Appendix" must meet. (shrink)
According to a doctrine widely held by most medieval philosophers and theologians, whether in the Muslim or Christian world, there are no metaphysical distinctions in God whatsoever. As a result of the compendious theorizing that has been done on this issue, the doctrine, usually called the doctrine of divine simplicity, has been bestowed a prominent status in both Islamic and Christian philosophical theology. In Islamic philosophy some well-known philosophers, such as Ibn Sina (980–1037) and Mulla Sadra (1571–1640), developed this (...) doctrine through a metaphysical approach. In this paper, considering the historical order, I shall first concentrate on Ibn Sina’s view. Then I shall turn to the theory of divine simplicity of Thomas Aquinas (1225?–1274), as the most developed and comprehensive version of the medieval theories in Christian world. Finally, I will return to Islamic philosophy and explore the more complicated and mature account of the doctrine as it was introduced by Mulla Sadra according to his own philosophical principles. (shrink)
The general composition question asks “what are the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions any xs and any y must satisfy in order for it to be true that those xs compose that y?” Although this question has received little attention, there is an interesting and theoretically fruitful answer. Namely, strong composition as identity (SCAI): necessarily, for any xs and any y, those xs compose y iff those xs are identical to y. SCAI is theoretically fruitful because if it is true, (...) then there is an answer to one of the most difficult and intractable questions of mereology (The Simple Question). In this paper, I introduce the identity account of simplicity and argue that if SCAI is true then this identity account of simplicity is as well. I consider an objection to the identity account of simplicity. Ultimately, I find this objection unsuccessful. (shrink)
In On the Nature and Existence of God, Richard Gale follows majority opinion in giving very short shrift to the doctrine of divine simplicity: in his view, there is no coherent expressible doctrine of divine simplicity. Rising to the implicit challenge, I argue that---contrary to what is widely believed---there is a coherently expressible doctrine of divine simplicity, though it is rather different from the views that are typically expressed by defenders of this doctrine. At the very least, (...) I think that I manage to show that there are ways of understanding the doctrine of divine simplicity that have not yet been adequately examined. (shrink)
The advent of formal definitions of the simplicity of a theory has important implications for model selection. But what is the best way to define simplicity? Forster and Sober () advocate the use of Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC), a non-Bayesian formalisation of the notion of simplicity. This forms an important part of their wider attack on Bayesianism in the philosophy of science. We defend a Bayesian alternative: the simplicity of a theory is to be characterised in (...) terms of Wallace's Minimum Message Length (MML). We show that AIC is inadequate for many statistical problems where MML performs well. Whereas MML is always defined, AIC can be undefined. Whereas MML is not known ever to be statistically inconsistent, AIC can be. Even when defined and consistent, AIC performs worse than MML on small sample sizes. MML is statistically invariant under 1-to-1 re-parametrisation, thus avoiding a common criticism of Bayesian approaches. We also show that MML provides answers to many of Forster's objections to Bayesianism. Hence an important part of the attack on Bayesianism fails. (shrink)
Karl Popper equates simplicity with falsifiability. He develops his argument for this equation through a geometrical example. There is a flaw in his example, which undermines his claim that simplicity is falsifiability. I point out the flaw here.
In this paper I will argue that, in general, where the evidence supports two theories equally, the simpler theory is not more likely to be true and is not likely to be nearer the truth. In other words simplicity does not tell us anything about model bias. Our preference for simpler theories (apart from their obvious pragmatic advantages) can be explained by the facts that humans are known to elaborate unsuccessful theories rather than attempt a thorough revision and that (...) a fixed set of data can only justify adjusting a certain number of parameters to a limited degree of precision. No extra tendency towards simplicity in the natural world is necessary to explain our preference for simpler theories. Thus Occam's razor eliminates itself (when interpreted in this form). (shrink)
Treating the principle of charity as a non-empirical, foundational principle leads to insoluble problems of justification. I suggest instead treating semantic properties realistically, and semantic terms as theoretical terms. This allows us to apply ordinary scientific reasoning in meta-semantics. In particular, we can appeal to widespread verbal agreement as an empirical phenomenon, and we can make use of probabilistic reasoning as well as appeal to theoretical simplicity for reaching the conclusion that there is a high rate of agreement in (...) belief between speakers who have a high rate of verbal agreement. Although this does not by itself imply that the beliefs agreed upon are generally true, it does imply that any single speaker who is party to such a verbal agreement is justified in taking the other speakers to have mostly true beliefs. She is so justified because of the fact that it is incoherent to take her own beliefs not to be mostly true. Indirectly, this justifies a version of the principle of charity as an empirically correct principle. (shrink)
The simplicity of a theory seems closely related to how well the theory summarizes individual data points. Think, for example, of classic curve-fitting. It is easy to get perfect data-fit with a ‘‘theory’’ that simply lists each point of data, but such a theory is maximally unsimple (for the data-fit). The simple theory suggests instead that there is one underlying curve that summarizes this data, and we usually prefer such a theory even at some expense in data-fit. In general, (...) it seems, theorizing involves looking for regularities or patterns in our experience, and such regularities are interesting to us because they summarize how our experience goes. We could list all the ravens we’ve encountered, and their colors, or we could summarize.. (shrink)