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Hanlon's Razor


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Intelligence Officer

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Hanlon's razor is an adage 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 that suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior. It is probably named after Robert J. Hanlon, who submitted the statement to Murphy's Law Book Two (1980). Applied broadly, this principle suggests that when assessing people’s actions, you should not assume that they acted out of a desire to cause harm, as long as there is a reasonable alternative explanation.

Understanding Hanlon’s razor

Hanlon’s razor is a philosophical razor, which means that it’s a guiding principle that helps you select the most likely—though not necessarily correct—explanation for a phenomenon. It is therefore a valuable reasoning tool, which can help you deal with various everyday issues, such as having someone miss an appointment with you or not respond to an email.

However, there are two important caveats that must be mentioned with regard to Hanlon’s razor:

  • Hanlon’s razor doesn’t imply that actions never occur due to malice. Rather, it suggests that, as long as it’s reasonable to do so, it’s better to assume that negative outcomes occurred as a result of stupidity or similar causes, rather than malice.
  • Hanlon’s razor doesn’t have to do with whether a certain action was justified or not. That is, the use of Hanlon’s razor doesn’t imply that a certain action is acceptable just because it happened as a result of stupidity instead of malice. Rather, Hanlon’s razor is simply used in order to help you find the most likely explanation for an action, after which you can decide how to judge that action and how to respond accordingly.

Overall, this means that Hanlon’s razor is meant to serve as a rule of thumb for understanding people’s actions in some cases. This means that it’s not guaranteed to lead you to the right conclusion, but that it can nevertheless be a good starting point in many situations.

How does it relate to you

We see this as it relates to gaming and our modern society time and time again in the form of rage baiting and grifting. Platforms like Twitter 'X' or even YouTube, TikTok and Instagram reward it actually and especially if you are partnered or similar for the platform. We live in a world where the greatest interaction is to anger someone, but is it on purpose? 

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