Hanlon's razor is a principle or rule of thumb that states, "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". Known in several other forms, it is a philosophical razor which suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior. Similar statements have been recorded since at least the 18th century. It is likely named after Robert J. Hanlon, a person who submitted the statement to a joke book.
Inspired by Occam's razor, Hanlon's razor became known in 1990 in this form and under that name by the Jargon File, a glossary of computer programmer slang. Later that same year, the Jargon File editors noted lack of knowledge about the term's derivation and the existence of a similar epigram by William James. In 1996, the Jargon File entry on Hanlon's Razor noted the existence of a similar quotation in Robert A. Heinlein's novella Logic of Empire (1941), with speculation that Hanlon's Razor might be a corruption of "Heinlein's Razor". (The character "Doc" in Heinlein's story described the "devil theory" fallacy, explaining, "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.")
In 2001, Quentin Stafford-Fraser published two blog entries citing e-mails from Joseph E. Bigler explaining that the quotation originally came from Robert J. Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a submission (credited in print) for a compilation of various jokes related to Murphy's Law that were published in Arthur Bloch's Murphy's Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong! (1980). Subsequently, in 2002, the Jargon File entry noted the same.
Other variations of the idea
Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.
Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives.
Andrew Roberts, in his biography of Winston Churchill (Penguin Books, 2019, p. 771), quotes from Churchill‘s correspondence with King George VI in February 1943 regarding disagreements with Charles De Gaulle: " 'De Gaulle is hostile to this country, and I put far more confidence in Giraud than in him,‘ he insisted, albeit allowing that his 'insolence...may be founded on stupidity rather than malice.' "
- Apophenia – Tendency to perceive connections between unrelated things
- Clarke's three laws – Three axioms proposed by British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke
- Dunning–Kruger effect – Cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability
- Finagle's law – Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment
- Good faith – Intention to be fair, open, and honest
- Hitchens's razor – The burden of proof of a claim lies with the one who made it
- Idiot-proof – Designed to be proof against misuse or error
- Law of triviality – Focusing on what is irrelevant but easy to understand
- Newton's flaming laser sword
- Peter principle – Concept that people in a hierarchy are promoted until no longer competent
- Presumption of innocence – Legal principle that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty
- Principle of charity – Interpreting statements in the most rational way possible
- Sturgeon's law – "Ninety percent of everything is crap"
- Wikipedia:Assume good faith – English Wikipedia behavioral guideline
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- Arthur Bloch (1980). Murphy's Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong!. Price Stern Sloan. p. 52. ISBN 9780417064505.
- Livraghi, Giancarlo (2004). Il potere della stupidità. Pescara, Italy: Monti & Ambrosini SRL. p. 1. ISBN 9788889479131.
- "Hanlon's Razor". Jargon File. Eric S. Raymond. 2002-03-03. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Guy L. Steele; Eric S. Raymond, eds. (1990-06-12). "The Jargon File, Version 2.1.1 (Draft)". jargon-file.org. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Eric S. Raymond; Guy L. Steele, eds. (1990-12-15). "The Jargon File, Version 2.2.1". jargon-file.org. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Eric S. Raymond, ed. (1996-07-24). "The Jargon File, Version 4.0.0". jargon-file.org. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Robert Heinlein (1941-03-01). "Logic of Empire". Astounding Science-Fiction. Vol. 27 no. 1. p. 39. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
- Stafford-Fraser, Quentin (2001-11-26). "[untitled]". Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Stafford-Fraser, Quentin (2001-12-04). "The origins of Hanlon's Razor". Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Eric S. Raymond, ed. (2002-03-03). "The Jargon File, Version 4.3.2". jargon-file.org. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- Selin, Shannon (14 July 2014). "Napoleon Misquoted - Ten Famous Things Bonaparte Never Actually Said". MilitaryHistoryNow.com. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774). Die Leiden des jungen Werthers or The Sufferings of Young Werther. Translated by Bayard Quincy Morgan. p. 14.
- Jane West, The Loyalists: An Historical Novel, Vol. 2 (Boston: 1813), p. 134