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Simplicity is the state or quality of being simple. Something which is easy to understand or explain seems simple, in contrast to something complicated. Alternatively, as Herbert A. Simon suggests, something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it.[1] In some uses, the label "simplicity" can imply beauty, purity, or clarity. "Simplicity" may also occur with negative connotations to suggest a deficit or insufficiency of nuance or of complexity of a thing, relative to what one supposes as required.

The concept of simplicity has been related to in[clarification needed] the field of epistemology. According to Occam's razor, all other things being equal, the simplest theory is the most likely to be true. In the context of human lifestyle, simplicity can denote freedom from hardship, effort or confusion.[citation needed] Specifically, it can refer to a simple living style.

Simplicity is a theme in the Christian religion. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God is infinitely simple. The Roman Catholic and Anglican religious orders of Franciscans also strive after personal simplicity. Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) practice the Testimony of Simplicity, which involves the simplifying of one's life in order to focus on things that are most important and disregarding or avoiding things seen as least important.

In the philosophy of science, simplicity is a meta-scientific criterion by which scientists evaluate competing theories. In this field, a distinction is often made[by whom?] between two senses of simplicity: syntactic simplicity (the number and complexity of hypotheses), and ontological simplicity (the number and complexity of things postulated). These two aspects of simplicity are often referred to as elegance and parsimony respectively.[2]

John von Neumann defines simplicity as important esthetic criteria of scientific models:

[...] (scientific model) must satisfy certain esthetic criteria - that is, in relation to how much it describes, it must be rather simple. I think it is worth while insisting on these vague terms - for instance, on the use of word rather. One cannot tell exactly how "simple" simple is. [...] Simplicity is largely a matter of historical background, of previous conditioning, of antecedents, of customary procedures, and it is very much a function of what is explained by it.[3]


  1. ^ Simon 1962, p. 481
  2. ^ Baker, Alan (2010-02-25). "Simplicity". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 ed.). Retrieved 2015-04-26. A distinction is often made between two fundamentally distinct senses of simplicity: syntactic simplicity (roughly, the number and complexity of hypotheses), and ontological simplicity (roughly, the number and complexity of things postulated). [...] These two facets of simplicity are often referred to as elegance and parsimony respectively. [...] It should be noted, however, that the terms ‘parsimony’ and ‘simplicity’ are used virtually interchangeably in much of the philosophical literature. 
  3. ^ von Neumann, John (1955). "Method in the Physical Sciences". In Leary, Lewis. The Unity Of Knowledge. N.J.: Garden City. 

See also[edit]


  • Craig, E. Ed. (1998) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London, Routledge. simplicity (in Scientific Theory) p. 780–783
  • Dancy, J. and Ernest Sosa, Ed.(1999) A Companion to Epistemology. Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers Inc. simplicity p. 477–479.
  • Dowe, D. L., S. Gardner & G. Oppy (2007), "Bayes not Bust! Why Simplicity is no Problem for Bayesians", Brit. J. Phil. Sci., Vol. 58, Dec. 2007, 46pp. [Among other things, this paper compares MML with AIC.]
  • Edwards, P., Ed. (1967). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York, The Macmillan Company. simplicity p. 445–448.
  • Hickey, Rich (2011) Simple Made Easy
  • Kim, J. a. E. S., Ed.(2000). A Companion to Metaphysics. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers. simplicity, parsimony p. 461–462.
  • Maeda, J., (2006) Laws of Simplicity, MIT Press
  • Newton-Smith, W. H., Ed. (2001). A Companion to the Philosophy of Science. Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers Ltd. simplicity p. 433–441.
  • Richmond, Samuel A.(1996)"A Simplification of the Theory of Simplicity", Synthese 107 373–393.
  • Sarkar, S. Ed. (2002). The Philosophy of Science—An Encyclopedia. London, Routledge. simplicity
  • Schmölders, Claudia (1974). Simplizität, Naivetät, Einfalt – Studien zur ästhetischen Terminologie in Frankreich und in Deutschland, 1674–1771. PDF, 37MB (German)
  • Scott, Brian(1996) "Technical Notes on a Theory of Simplicity", Synthese 109 281–289.
  • Simon, Herbert A (1962) The Architecture of Complexity Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106, 467–482.
  • Wilson, R. A. a. K., Frank C., (1999). The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press. parsimony and simplicity p. 627–629.
  • If Not God, Then What? (2007) by Joshua Fost, p. 93

External links[edit]