Bad Decisions

At some point in the mists of time I concluded that bad decisions can be attributed to one of two causes:

  • Ignorance, when an otherwise good decision was made with faulty information.
  • Stupidity, when a bad decision was made despite good information.

Ignorance is pretty straightforward. Nobody like to be called ignorant, but it’s ridiculous to try to claim that one isn’t often ignorant. We’re never omniscient, so to some degree we always suffer from some level of ignorance. But the focus here isn’t on what isn’t known, it’s on the bad decision. The issue of the missing vital data is secondary. I feel pretty confident that this is the correct word.

Stupidity is less straightforward. It seems like there should be a better word, but I’ve not yet found one. As with “ignorant” nobody like to be called stupid, but everyone who isn’t perfect, regardless of their intelligence, makes stupid mistakes. Everyone. If you have a better word, suggest it, but be prepared to defend it. I’m not interested in words that indicate slowness or foolishness; that’s not what I have in mind.

Are there other causes of bad decisions that can’t be attributed to one of these things as the root cause? Maybe Incompetence, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t an example of Stupidity. Deception and Confusion seem to clearly be no more than extenuating circumstances that lead to Ignorance in the decision-making process. It’s probably a mistake to lump emotional aspects into stupidity, but I’m not sure what else to do with that, and it seems likely to be about as useful as stuffing worms into Pandora’s box. I could easily be wrong about that. What about spiritual causes?

Is it only bad decisions, or can this be expanded to other mistakes? Physical mistakes seem to have a host of other issues, and I’m not sure I’m really interested in expanding this into “every possible cause of anything that could possible go wrong”.

There’s probably a branch of science that studies this precise subject, and has already established well-defined nomenclature. If you know what it is, enlighten me!

8 thoughts on “Bad Decisions

  1. In the same vein as “spiritual causes”… would either of these describe people who seem to make ignorant or stupid decision from someone else’s opinion? Or is interpretation of what would make a “bad” decision out of scope? In some ways, someone’s decision could appear to be “bad” from all natural and observable sources. Or does the ignorance / stupidity part apply to the interpreter as well?


    • Good questions! Some parts will require more thought, but here’s what I have now.

      If you have reason to believe the data (opinion) to be reliable, then a bad decision based on that data would be due to ignorance. If you have reasons to believe the data to be bad, and you rely on it anyway, that seems stupid.

      It’s not alway clear cut. Sometime I make decisions based on unreliable data (an item on Amazon with a single review) because unreliable data seems better than no data. Is the decision stupid if it turns out the way you’d hoped?

      I suppose gambling should be considered. A bet with 75% odds of winning might be reasonable, but you could always have bad luck. Technically that just ignorance of random future events, but calling it that seems unsatisfactory.

      Maybe it wasn’t a bad decision despite the loss. Should the badness be determined by the context? Losing a paycheck is different from losing the evening’s entertainment funds, especially if the loss was entertaining.

      The observer’s own decision about the wisdom/validity of someone else’s decision is certainly within scope. It’s just another decision.


      • Sure, but what about decisions which are almost certainly ignorant or stupid to one person but clearly not from the person to made the decision? In some ways this would be relevant for religious practices, dedication etc but also extend into hyperbole or considering how “not all truth is fact.”

        Or what about decisions which may never have a “verdict” or a decision that could never be clearly ruled in favor of being good or bad or where there will always be disagreement. Some things may be a perfectly good decision in one mind and bad in another without any reason for reconciliation.


        • The point isn’t to characterize a decision as good or bad, the assumption is that the decision was bad. I might think it was a good decision, and you might think it was a bad decision. Both or neither might be correct, only the omniscient will know. I drifted off course in my last comment, so it’s probably my fault for taking us down this road.

          Or maybe you’re talking about something else and I’m missing something of what you’re getting at.


          • Eh, that has always been my point from the beginning, which is why I wasn’t sure if it was “in scope.” I was looking for a third option that defines neither stupidity nor ignorance but still leads to a “bad” decision… at least in someone’s eyes. If it is omniscience that decides what was good or bad, then I guess my point is moot. :-)


            • So you’re looking for a cause for you to make a decision that you believe is good even though I believe it is bad? The cause from your perspective? (Mine is in scope.) Or put another way, your reason for making a contentious decision?


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