Grebnesi's Razor
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Grebnesi's Razor

What is Grebnesi's Razor?

In philosophy, a razor is a labor saving device used in the search for truth.  Those who wield it can accelerate learning by shaving away entire classes of errors.  Like Occam's and Hanlon's Razor, Grebnesi's Razor is a guide to separating arguments that should be considered from arguments that may be ignored:

"Only reason can distinguish truth from falsehood."

Put another way, to learn what is true you only need to consider arguments that arrive at a conclusion by correctly applying inductive or deductive logic to definitions and observations.  Arguments that contain logical fallacies or factual errors need not be considered.   Neither should those arguments that are not really arguments at all, like assertions, appeals to emotion, and faith in the word of God.  

That this is the case is clear from the principle of non-contradiction.  Assertions, emotions, and religious faiths all contradict themselves.  For instance, you may assert that the Empire State Building has 102 stories.  I may assert 109.  This is a contradiction.  We can not both be correct at the same time and in the same sense.   Competing assertions will not reveal which of us is right.  Suppose, on the other hand, that you actually counted the number of floors - i.e., you used reason.  In choosing between your claim of 102 and my claim of 109, Grebnesi's razor favors you.  Just as with assertions, emotional claims often contradict each other - as most married people will tell you.   The same is true of divine revelations.  For example, the Old and New Testaments contradict each other on how God wants us to respond to violence.  Exodus 21:23-24 says "thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth"1.  But Matthew 5:38-39 claims to repeal Exodus: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."2    Who knows the true word of God - the Jew who has faith in Exodus or the Christian who has faith in Matthew?  Faith does not tell us.   Among all the forms of disputation, only reason, when properly applied, never contradicts itself.  Therefore, only reason can reliably uncover the truth about a world where contradictions do not exist.  This is why the philosopher Ayn Rand defined logic as "the art of non-contradictory identification"3.  

Neither Occam nor Hanlon could make claims of originality.  Occam's Razor is based on the earlier works of Aristotle and Aquinas.  Versions of Hanlon's Razor are found as early as the 1770s4.   Similarly, Grebnesi's Razor breaks no new ground.  It follows directly from the definition of logic, a tool set that has been in use for thousands of years.  Nevertheless, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, there is a great need to reaffirm its usefulness.  

- Lee Kim Grebnesi, January 28, 2007


1The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, World Bible Publishers, The Old Testament, p.51.

2Ibid, The New Testament, p.5.

3"Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World", lecture delivered at Yale University on Feb. 17, 1960; at Brooklyn College on Apr. 4, 1960, and at Columbia University on May 5, 1960 in Rand, Ayn, Philosophy: Who Needs It, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1982, p. 75. 

4"Hanlon's razor" in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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