What is Hanlon’s Razor and how can you use it (With Examples!)🪒

Hanlons Razor

Do you feel angered, disturbed, or annoyed by some recent event?

Personal or Global?

Who do you assign the blame for such an event?

And do you think that person did it out of malice? Are they evil?

If you take 100 such events, how many would you attribute to intentional malice?

Not sure?

That’s where a Hanlon’s Razor comes in handy.

But before that, what is a razor?

What is a Razor?

A mental razor is a tool or a rule of thumb we can use to make quick decisions.

We are able to make quick decisions because we “shave off” the most unlikely explanations of an event.

Prominent examples include Occam’s Razor and Hanlon’s Razor👇

What is Hanlon’s Razor?

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”

That’s the essence of Hanlon’s Razor.

This mental model helps us easily explain many disturbing events in our life.

We understand that the event was not the result of malicious intent, rather naivete or stupidity on the actor’s part.

Of course, it doesn’t work always, but when it does it can cure a lot of anxiety.

True wisdom is in knowing when to apply Hanlon’s razor and when to ignore it.

It’s ironic that the razor was first brought to the world as a submission to a joke book, by Mr. Robert J. Hanlon back in the 18th century.

Let’s look at some variations and examples of Hanlon’s razor👇

Variations and Examples of Hanlon’s Razor


The simplest example of Hanlon’s Razor is when a colleague misses a critical meeting.

  1. Do you think that it happened because they intended to miss the meeting and spoil the project timelines?
  2. Or do you say to yourself, it’s probably an honest mistake, they are stuck somewhere and that’s why they couldn’t make it?

You the second response is more likely, and more healthy for your mental peace as well.

Yet, we often jump to the first response and seek elaborate explanations before we accept the second one.

This can be applied to personal relationships and online interactions as well.

A variation of Hanlon’s razor is –

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence/naivete/ignorance”

This helps me deal with customer service agents over the phone.

I know they don’t mean bad, but they are just not equipped to handle my complaint.

And it also helps me deal with online debates with random strangers. I can attribute their negativity to their ignorance of a topic, or the general cold nature of the written medium.

Another place where this has helped me is thinking about COVID Politics –

Pandemic Politics

It’s easy to fall for conspiracy theories and start blaming China for everything wrong that’s happened in the last 15 months.

But being an average citizen of a third-world country, I don’t have the devices to either validate or invalidate those theories.

And more importantly, I don’t have the capability to take action on any conspiracy theory.

So for my own peace of mind, I apply Hanlon’s razor and say that there was no malice behind COVID-19.

Yes, there was incompetence, there was naivete, there was ignorance, but there was no malice🤷‍♂️

When Hanlon’s razor doesn’t work

But there are some places where Hanlon’s Razor doesn’t work.

You might have guessed it by now, but some obvious examples are –

  • When a co-worker is actually trying to mess with you.
  • When a politician is shirking responsibilities
  • When partner or a friend is taking advantage of you.

In these situations, you apply Hanlon’s razor the first couple of times, but soon you build an intuition for knowing when you are being wronged.

Or you hope you do 🙂


Hanlon’s Razor is a simple mental tool.

It’s not very scientific, and it’s hard to test and prove.

But it’s good for making quick decisions.

And it helps to build a generally positive outlook towards the world.

And that makes the world, just a bit better to live in💓

Thank you for reading🙏

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Related –

Why Compounding Works And How Can We Use It In Our Life? 

What Are Mental Models & Why Are They Important (With A Simple Example)

How To Figure Out The 20% Effort That Will Give You 80% Results | Applying Pareto’s Principle

Further Reading –

Hanlon’s Razor: Relax, Not Everything is Out to Get You | Farnam Street

Photo Credit Jared Rice on Unsplash