“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” or “Hanlon’s Razor”, is a phrase inspired by Occam’s Razor. It is a way of explaining other people’s behaviour and actions. Variations occur, but the most often repeated version is, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”.
The real value of Hanlon’s Razor is in the first part: “Never attribute to malice…” Many things determine human behaviour. Anger, forgetfulness and defensiveness are just a few examples. Any of these can drive neglectful behaviour in others.
For example, if you don’t receive an invitation to a party, Hanlon’s razor means that you shouldn’t assume that this happened because the person in charge decided to avoid sending it to you on purpose, if it’s reasonable to assume that they simply forgot to send it.
The beauty of Hanlon’s Razor is that you can make it fit many situations. In place of “stupidity”, you can substitute “neglect, miscommunication, carelessness or poor instructions”. Similarly, you can give “malice” many meanings that would extend to all forms of premeditated evil.
Hanlon’s Razor is so important because we all make mistakes all the time and is it really worth damaging your relationship by assuming someone has deliberately wronged you?
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. It’s a useful thinking tool, which can help you interpret issues. Such as having someone not reply to your messages or not contact you on your birthday.
However, it’s important to remember that Hanlon’s razor doesn’t mean that people never act out of malice. Rather, it proposes that it’s probably better to assume that negative outcomes happened because of a mistake, rather than malice. The use of Hanlon’s razor also doesn’t automatically mean that what somebody did was okay just because it happened as a result of stupidity instead of malice. It is simply used to help you find the most likely reason for an action. You can decide how to judge that action and how you ultimately respond.
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” can help you avoid the negative emotions that are mixed with assuming bad intentions. Assuming that someone acted out of malice will cause you to experience more negativity. Compared to thinking that they acted like that due to other reasons. Unless there is a good reason to think that someone was trying to be hurtful. It is often better to avoid assuming bad intentions without a very good reason.
It can help you to easily assess situations because it can save you from having to dedicate more time and effort to thinking about a hurtful situation.
In conclusion, it offers multiple benefits. Including helping you avoid the negative emotions associated with assuming bad intentions. Improving your relationships with others, and prompting you to take action.
I find Hanlon’s Razor simple and valuable. However, it can take practice for it to become second nature. This could be because our primitive instincts are on the look out for malicious intent to protect ourselves. It’s true that we also often believe that others always have us in mind when they act. When they’re usually way too busy living their own lives.
It’s important to remember that malice is still a real risk to protect ourselves against in our lives. Stupidity is also something we do need to protect ourselves from. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” helps us to figure out which one we are dealing with before we proceed.