The Systemic Tests of Economy and Simplicity

  • James W. Cornman
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy book series (PSSP, volume 18)


The last pair of nonevidential tests for explanation sets that I shall consider come under the headings of simplicity and economy, the latter being, I suppose, what Quine and Ullian call “modesty”, that is, the test that “other things being equal, the less story the better”.1 One translation of this slogan is that if everything is equal, the more economical a system is in its ontology, the better it is. Unfortunately, However, economy and specially simplicity cover a bewilderingly large variety of proposed test, unlike the sorts of test previously considered. Furthermore, because of this superabundance of competitors, a comprehensive and detailed examination of the available alternatives coupled with a well-reasoned defense of one or more tests is beyond the scope of this chapter. I shall try, however, to describe the leading candidates of each sort briefly, indicate quickly my reasons for rejecting or accepting them, and propose, with a modicum of defense, a new test of each sort which avoids the problems of its predecessors.


Conjunctive Normal Form Explanatory System Syntactical Feature Existential Quantifier Minimal Version 
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  1. 1.
    W. Quine and J. Ullian, The Web of Belief, New York: Random House, 1970, p. 51Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See R. Rudner, ‘An Introduction to Simplicity’, Philosophy of Science 2 (1961), 109–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See N. Goodman, Problems and Projects, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972, p. 338Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See K. Friedman, ‘Son of Grue: Simplicity vs. Entrenchment’, Nous 7 (1973), 370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    E. Sober, Simplicity, London: Oxford University Press, 1975, p. viiGoogle Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1980

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  • James W. Cornman

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