Is Simplicity a Myth? Mach and Bunge on the Principle of Parsimony

  • Íñigo Ongay de Felipe


This chapter examines the contrast between Ernst Mach’s and Mario Bunge’s accounts of parsimony as a principle in theory evaluation. The point is argued that simplicity, central as it undoubtedly is to Mach’s philosophy, does not constitute a proper epistemic virtue within his framework. In his 1963 book The Myth of Simplicity, Mario Bunge endorses a very different position. Bunge begins by noticing that simplicity is not that simple. Indeed, the notion can be accorded a plurality of distinct meanings whether they are semantic, logical, epistemic, ontological, syntactic, or even aesthetic. Thus, doubts do inevitably arise regarding what sort of simplicity is accorded epistemic importance. Unlike Ernst Mach, Mario Bunge adopts a critical realist position and so he argues that scientific theories aim at representing the world. Importantly however, Bunge does not mean to claim that the principle of parsimony is devoid of any relevance. Nonetheless, replacing this modest and transitional usage of the principle with a cult of simplicity coupled with the ungrounded metaphysical assumption that the world is intrinsically simple (which Bunge calls simplicism) conflicts with other heuristic goals of science. I will show that Bunge’s analysis deserves credit for reminding us that research customarily unveils the multiple -fold inner complexity of reality and so it is always good advice to recall that our best theories are to be kept simple enough but not simpler.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Íñigo Ongay de Felipe
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Estudios de OcioUniversidad de DeustoBilbaoSpain

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