What Is Hanlon’s Razor? It’s Not Occam’s

(Last Updated On: October 15, 2019)

What Is Hanlon’s Razor?

Have you heard of Hanlon’s Razor before? If not, we promise it’s not some weird new substitute for your daily shaving routine. Instead, it has to do with human behavior. You’ve probably met someone who has caused a lot of problems in your life. And let’s be real, you probably thought they were doing it maliciously. In this scenario, we have to throw in Hanlon’s Razor (just don’t swallow it). So, what exactly is Hanlon’s Razor?

What Is Hanlon’s Razor?

Hint: It’s Not Occam’s Razor

We’ve written about Occam’s Razor before on the site, so you can read more about it from us. Part of it is about using simplicity to your advantage. You might think that Hanlon’s Razor is either the opposite or similar by sharing the “razor” with Occam, but they’re not really the same. 

Simplicity does play a huge part. But it doesn’t have anything to do with finding solutions.

Hanlon’s Razor Is about Stupid People

There is a reason Occam and Hanlon share the same razor, and it’s not because they lived together. Hanlon’s Razor was in part inspired by Occam’s Razor, and was first popularized by the Jargon File in 1996. But the concept actually has ties to a quote from a 1941 science fiction novella by Robert A. Heinlein called Logic of Empire. In fact, there is some speculation that “Hanlon’s Razor” might be a corruption of “Heinlein’s Razor”. 

Anyway, quote in question is as follows:

“You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”

We’re not entirely sure why people got so into the idea of Hanlon’s Razor. But just so we’re on the same page, it basically means people who do really stupid things look like they’re being stupid because they hate you. But they really don’t hate you. They’re just stupid.

People love to get mad. The fact that people like to antagonize the most random things is practically its own psychological field of study, so why subscribe to “dumb people aren’t evil”?

For you pessimists out there, you probably won’t be subscribing to Hanlon’s Razor anytime soon, unless you’re looking for a reason to call people stupid. Which, honestly, probably explains why it entered popular consensus thanks to programmers–because every programmer codes differently from each other and nothing works when things get mish-mashed together. 

So we guess we just gave you a really long way to call someone so stupid they can’t even be considered evil. Or, more optimistically, we gave you a reason to take things a little easy. Because your arch nemesis might not be out to get you, they’re just dumb or otherwise incompetent.

Just as a quick aside, we’re not saying dumb people can’t be evil–there’s something to be said about willful ignorance. But that’s a new can of worms.

Thought there were only two philosophical razors? You thought wrong, here’s a quiz on it.



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.