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Hanlon's Razor is an eponymous adage which reads:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.


Origins and similar quotations

According to Joseph Bigler, the quotation first came from Robert J. Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania as a submission for a book compilation of various jokes related to Murphy's law published in 1980 entitled Murphy's Law Book Two, More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong.[1] The "razor" is a play on Occam's razor.

A similar quotation appears in Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 short story "Logic of Empire" ("You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"); this was noticed in 1996 (five years before Bigler identified the Robert J. Hanlon citation) and first referenced in version 4.0.0 of the Jargon File,[2] with speculation that Hanlon's Razor might be a corruption of "Heinlein's Razor". "Heinlein's Razor" has since been defined as variations on Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice.[3] Yet another similar epigram ("Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.") has been widely attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte.[4] Another similar quote appears in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774): "...misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent."

A practical observation on the risks of stupidity was made by the German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord in Truppenführung, 1933: "I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!"[5]

Cock-up theory

A common (and more laconic) British English version, coined by Sir Bernard Ingham, is the saying "Cock-up before conspiracy".

Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.
Sir Bernard Ingham[6]

See also


  1. ^ In an e-mail to Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Joseph E. Bigler wrote that Robert J. Hanlon was a real person and did indeed invent this quotation. This is followed up by a later note which refers to Murphy's Law Book Two, Wrong Reasons Why Things Go More (ISBN 0-417-06450-0); not to be confused with Murphy's Law #2 (ISBN 0-8431-0674-3). The publisher of these books, Price Stern Sloan, was acquired by Putnam Berkley Group (Penguin Group (USA) History) in 1993.
  2. ^
  3. ^ This quotation is attributed to Albert Einstein in Peter Singer's 2009 book "Wired for War" (ISBN 1594201986) on pg. 434
  4. ^ "Napoleon I on Incompetence - Quotation - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31.  
  5. ^ Condell, Bruce; Zabecki, Major General U. S. Army David T., eds (2001) [originally published in German as Heeresdienstvorschrift 300: Part 1 (1933) and Part 2 (1934), softcover]. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung. translation by Condell and Zabecki; foreword by James S. Corum. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. LC 2001019798, additional OCLC 469812750. ISBN 9781555879969. OCLC 46704038.  
  6. ^ Galvin, Nick (September 1 2009). "Case of a misplaced point". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 11 January 2010.  

External links

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