The Two Blades of Occam’s Razor in Economics: Logical and Heuristic

Giandomenica Becchio


This paper is part of the general debate about the need to rethink economics as a human discipline using a heuristic to describe its object, about the need to explicitly reject the positivistic approach in neoclassical economics, and about the urgency to adopt a different methodology, grounded on a realistic set of initial assumptions able to cope with the complexity of the decision making process. The aim of this paper is to show the use of Occam’s razor in the economic debate around realism in economic modelling. Occam’s razor can be intended as a principle of logic that emphasises simplicity, or as a heuristic tool that emphasises parsimony. Neoclassical economists, such as Samuelson, have explicitly used Occam’s razor as a logical principle to highlight the strict logic and simplicity of neoclassical economics; neoclassical models, however, are based on unrealistic assumptions. Some approaches of heterodox economics, au contraire, have used Occam’s razor as a powerful heuristic tool to emphasise parsimony, building up models grounded on realistic initial assumptions and capable of embedding complexity into the general explanation of economic behaviour, as in Simon’s bounded rationality (1955; 1957) and Hayek’s notion of human rationality (1948; 1952; 1974) and cultural and social evolution (1967; 1978).

Published on 13th July, 2020, in Economic Thought Vol 9, No 1, 2020