The Razor and the Laser

Analytic Philosophy 59 (3):341-358 (2018)
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The Razor says: do not multiply entities without necessity! The Laser says: do not multiply fundamental entities without necessity! Behind the Laser lies a deep insight. This is a distinction between the costs and the commitments of a theory. According to the Razor, every commitment is a cost. Not so according to the Laser. According to the Laser, derivative entities are an ontological free lunch: that is, they are a commitment without a cost. Jonathan Schaffer (2015) has argued that the Laser should replace the Razor. In Sections 2-4 we shall discuss and argue against Schaffer’s arguments for replacing the Razor with the Laser. Schaffer considers several objections to his views, and in Sections 5-7 we shall argue that Schaffer does not deal successfully with two of them. In Section 8 we shall present a probabilistic argument for the Laser. However, the argument has a limitation and does not support the replacement of the Razor with the Laser. Indeed, it supports only the claim that, given certain assumptions, the multiplication of explanatorily relevant derivative entities does not matter; but, as we argue in the same section, there is an argument that multiplying explanatorily superfluous derivative entities does makes a theory less rationally acceptable. Our conclusion is that the Laser cannot replace the Razor and that derivative entities are not an ontological free lunch.
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Archival date: 2018-06-21
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