Tuesday, 20 April 2010

On Writing: To Be Feared or Revered? Who's Occam and what's the Deal with the Razor?

In a previous blog (9/03/10) I used an Esther Freud quote to suggest that good writing is achieved through good editing, and it's with this lancing of unnecessary words that Occam’s Razor comes in.

In a literary sense, the rule of Occam's Razor is essentially: prune all inessential words. There are many variants but I’ve often wondered: who's Occam? And what’s this razor? Was Occam Sweeney Todd’s predecessor? Was he a murderer or a philosopher?

A dichotomy like this is important to resolve, so I decided to put a face to the name.

It turns out that the name Occam refers to British born William of Ockham (1288-1348), an intelligent, multi faceted Franciscan Friar who was a logician and theologian, and is known as the pioneer of nominolism as well as the father of epistemology and one of the major figures of scholasticism; all that despite never completing his Masters at Oxford University and being charged with accounts of heresy. Not bad for a University drop-out and possible heretic!

At least the image I now have of Occam/Ockham is less malevolent than before.

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