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Simplicity is the state or quality of being simple. Something 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. In other cases, the term may 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.

Herbert A. Simon American political scientist, economist, sociologist, and psychologist

Herbert Alexander Simon was an American economist and political scientist whose primary interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theories of "bounded rationality" and "satisficing". He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 and the Turing Award in 1975. His research was noted for its interdisciplinary nature and spanned across the fields of cognitive science, computer science, public administration, management, and political science. He was at Carnegie Mellon University for most of his career, from 1949 to 2001.

Complexity characterises the behaviour of a system or model whose components interact in multiple ways and follow local rules, meaning there is no reasonable higher instruction to define the various possible interactions.

Beauty characteristic of an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction

Beauty is a property or characteristic of an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, culture, social psychology, philosophy and sociology. An "ideal beauty" is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection.


The concept of simplicity has been related to in the field of epistemology and philosophy of science (e.g., in Occam's razor). Religions also reflect on simplicity with concepts such as divine simplicity. 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.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

Occams razor Philosophical principle of selecting the solution with the fewest assumptions

Occam's razor (also Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor ; further known as the law of parsimony is the problem-solving principle that essentially states that simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones. When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. The idea is attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham, a scholastic philosopher and theologian.


"Simplicity" is the state or quality of being simple. An easy-to-understand tutorial or white paper with a narrow focus can be seen as simple, particularly in contrast more complicated thorough documentation covering a topic's breadth. Similarly, "simplicity" can be used in reference to tasks that need little skill to perform well.

A tutorial is a method of transferring knowledge and may be used as a part of a learning process. More interactive and specific than a book or a lecture, a tutorial seeks to teach by example and supply the information to complete a certain task.

A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

Documentation set of documents providing knowledge

Documentation is a set of documents provided on paper, or online, or on digital or analog media, such as audio tape or CDs. Examples are user guides, white papers, on-line help, quick-reference guides. It is becoming less common to see paper (hard-copy) documentation. Documentation is distributed via websites, software products, and other on-line applications.

In some uses, the label "simplicity" can imply beauty, purity, or clarity. In other cases, the term may 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, as when referring to people as simpletons.

In folklore, a simpleton is a person whose foolish actions are the subject of often-repeated stories. Simpletons are also known as noodles, fools, and gothamites. Folklore often holds, with no basis in fact, that certain towns or countries are thought to be home to large numbers of simpletons. The ancient Greeks told tales of stupid populations in Abdera and other cities; in Germany, men of Schilda are conspicuous in these stories; in Spain hundreds of jokes exist about the supposed foolishness of the people from Lepe; and in England, the village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire is reputed to be populated by simpletons. In Sri Lanka whole districts in the central, southern, and western provinces are credited with being the abode of foolish people.

In philosophy of science

The concept of simplicity has been related to in[ clarification needed ] the field of epistemology and philosophy of science.

According to Occam's razor, all other things being equal, the simplest theory is most likely true. In other words, simplicity is a meta-scientific criterion by which scientists evaluate competing theories.

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]

In religion

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 for personal simplicity. Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) practice the Testimony of Simplicity, which involves simplifying one's life to focus on what is important and disregard or avoid what is least important. Simplicity is tenet of Anabaptistism, and some Anabaptist groups like the Bruderhof, make an effort to live simply. [4] [5]


In the context of human lifestyle, simplicity can denote freedom from hardship, effort or confusion.


  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. [...] 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.
  4. "Life Among The Bruderhof". The American Conservative. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  5. "A visit to Spring Valley Bruderhof". QC Family Tree. 2014-03-13. Retrieved 2018-03-27.

See also

Related Research Articles

KISS, a backronym for "keep it simple, stupid", is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson. The term "KISS principle" was in popular use by 1970. Variations on the phrase include: "Keep it simple, silly", "keep it short and simple", "keep it simple and straightforward", "keep it small and simple" and "keep it stupid simple".

The theory of justification is a part of epistemology that attempts to understand the justification of propositions and beliefs. Epistemologists are concerned with various epistemic features of belief, which include the ideas of justification, warrant, rationality, and probability. Loosely speaking, justification is the reason that someone (properly) holds a belief.

William of Ockham English medieval Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian

William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology. In the Church of England, his day of commemoration is 10 April.

Willard Van Orman Quine American philosopher and logician

Willard Van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century." From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard from 1956 to 1978. A 2009 poll conducted among analytic philosophers named Quine as the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries. He won the first Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 1993 for "his systematical and penetrating discussions of how learning of language and communication are based on socially available evidence and of the consequences of this for theories on knowledge and linguistic meaning." In 1996 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for his "outstanding contributions to the progress of philosophy in the 20th century by proposing numerous theories based on keen insights in logic, epistemology, philosophy of science and philosophy of language."

An ontological commitment refers to a relation between a language and certain objects postulated to be extant by that language. The 'existence' referred to need not be 'real', but exist only in a universe of discourse. As an example, legal systems use vocabulary referring to 'legal persons' that are collective entities that have rights. One says the legal doctrine has an ontological commitment to non-singular individuals. In information systems and artificial intelligence, where an ontology refers to a specific vocabulary and a set of explicit assumptions about the meaning and usage of these words, then an ontological commitment is an agreement to use the shared vocabulary in a coherent and consistent manner within a specific context. In philosophy a "theory is ontologically committed to an object only if that object occurs in all the ontologies of that theory"

Mind–body dualism philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.


Elegance is beauty that shows unusual effectiveness and simplicity. It is frequently used as a standard of tastefulness particularly in the areas of visual design, decoration, the sciences, and the aesthetics of mathematics. Elegant things exhibit refined grace and suggest maturity.

Coherentism is the name given to a few philosophical theories in modern epistemology.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to scientific method:

Ray Solomonoff's theory of universal inductive inference is a theory of prediction based on logical observations, such as predicting the next symbol based upon a given series of symbols. The only assumption that the theory makes is that the environment follows some unknown but computable probability distribution. It is a mathematical formalization of Occam's razor and the Principle of Multiple Explanations.

Naturalized epistemology, coined by W. V. O. Quine, is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. This shared emphasis on scientific methods of studying knowledge shifts focus to the empirical processes of knowledge acquisition and away from many traditional philosophical questions. There are noteworthy distinctions within naturalized epistemology. Replacement naturalism maintains that traditional epistemology should be abandoned and replaced with the methodologies of the natural sciences. The general thesis of cooperative naturalism is that traditional epistemology can benefit in its inquiry by using the knowledge we have gained from the cognitive sciences. Substantive naturalism focuses on an asserted equality of facts of knowledge and natural facts.

Computational epistemology is a subdiscipline of formal epistemology that studies the intrinsic complexity of inductive problems for ideal and computationally bounded agents. In short, computational epistemology is to induction what recursion theory is to deduction.

The indeterminacy problem is posed as a kind of paradox in the study of the sociology and history of science. It is often used as an argument against the rational value of scientific thought.

Elliott R. Sober is Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Sober is noted for his work in philosophy of biology and general philosophy of science.

In the philosophy of science, models of scientific inquiry have two functions: first, to provide a descriptive account of how scientific inquiry is carried out in practice, and second, to provide an explanatory account of why scientific inquiry succeeds as well as it appears to do in arriving at genuine knowledge.

The search for scientific knowledge ends far back into antiquity. At some point in the past, at least by the time of Aristotle, philosophers recognized that a fundamental distinction should be drawn between two kinds of scientific knowledge—roughly, knowledge that and knowledge why. It is one thing to know that each planet periodically reverses the direction of its motion with respect to the background of fixed stars; it is quite a different matter to know why. Knowledge of the former type is descriptive; knowledge of the latter type is explanatory. It is explanatory knowledge that provides scientific understanding of the world.

Outline of epistemology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to epistemology:

In philosophy, a razor is a principle or rule of thumb that allows one to eliminate unlikely explanations for a phenomenon, or avoid unnecessary actions.

Formative epistemology is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. According to formative epistemology, knowledge is gained through the imputation of thoughts from one human being to another in the societal setting. Humans are born without intrinsic knowledge and through their evolutionary and developmental processes gain knowledge from other human beings. Thus, according to formative epistemology, all knowledge is completely subjective and truth does not exist.

Model-dependent realism is a view of scientific inquiry that focuses on the role of scientific models of phenomena. It claims reality should be interpreted based upon these models, and where several models overlap in describing a particular subject, multiple, equally valid, realities exist. It claims that it is meaningless to talk about the "true reality" of a model as we can never be absolutely certain of anything. The only meaningful thing is the usefulness of the model. The term "model-dependent realism" was coined by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their 2010 book, The Grand Design.