Occam’s Razor, also called The Law of Parsimony, is a principle that we shouldn’t add more explanations for a thing than absolutely necessary. However, popular interpretations of this principle usually go something like “The simpler explanation is to be preferred over the complex one”. While this does sound appealing on the surface, it is actually a distortion of Occam. Even worse, this interpretation itself is open to rhetorical abuse. This is particularly true when people are unwilling to do the actual hard work of considering the totality of the facts, deciding which facts are relevant, then deciding what the facts mean.
The truth is that Occam’s Razor applies only to explanations that account for identical sets of facts. If the simple explanation takes into account eight relevant facts while the complex ones also take into account those same eight facts and only those eight, then Occam’s razor applies. However, if the complex explanation takes into account even nine relevant facts, including all eight of the previously stated ones, then we should at the very least not dismiss the more complex explanation from the get-go simply because it’s not as simple as the one that takes into account only the aforementioned eight facts. The complex explanation might still be wrong anyway, for any number of reasons. Even so, if it is wrong, it is certainly not due to its complexity; for the explanation takes into account one more relevant fact that the simple one does.
Occam’s Razor is also easy to abuse rhetorically, especially in light of the above. This is particularly true with regard to highly complex issues that vex practically everyone – religion, politics, economics, psychology, morality / ethics and so forth. As emotionally charged as these issues are, these spheres are especially fertile ground for demagogic rabble-rousing. In these situations, while it may appear the speechmaker seems a master at making the complex clear, it is at least as likely he or she is engaging in oversimple explanations – whether because he or she truly believes their own explanation or merely to provoke people into becoming outraged enough to given them support. In either case, it is best stop and take a healthy skepticism toward any viewpoint that seems to explain a lot of things, especially about “human nature” issues. If history and personal experience teach anything, human nature and human actions are often not easily reducible to one simple neat explanation.
So while Occam’s Razor, properly used, is often a powerful tool for discerning the truth of a matter, it’s very appeal as a supposedly simple method of discerning truth from lies makes it very vulnerable to abuse. Therefore, like any other tool, we should learn what it can and cannot do for us before we actually use it.