ⓘ Hanlons razor is an aphorism expressed in various ways, including: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Probably named aft ..

                                     

ⓘ Hanlons razor

Hanlons razor is an aphorism expressed in various ways, including:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Probably named after a Robert J. Hanlon, it is a philosophical razor which suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior.

                                     

1. Origin

Inspired by Occams razor, the aphorism became known in this form and under this 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 terms derivation and the existence of a similar epigram by William James. In 1996, the Jargon File entry on Hanlons Razor noted the existence of a similar quotation in Robert A. Heinleins novella Logic of Empire 1941, with speculation that Hanlons Razor might be a corruption of "Heinleins Razor".

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 book compilation of various jokes related to Murphys Law published in Arthur Blochs Murphys Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong! 1980. Subsequently, in 2002, the Jargon File entry noted the same.

                                     

2. Other variations of the idea

Earlier attributions to the idea go back to at least the 18th century. First published in German 1774 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in The Sorrows of Young Werther as translated:

Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.

An alternate expression of the idea comes from Jane West, in her novel The Loyalists: An Historical Novel 1812:

Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives.

A similar quote is also misattributed to Napoleon.

                                     
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  • Falsifiability  possibility of a statement to be proven wrong by observation Hanlon s razor Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity
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