Is there a word that means doing the right thing for the wrong reason or getting the right conclusion from the wrong set of presumptions?

  • both i guess. they seem to reference similar ideas? – platframe Jan 28 '11 at 16:27
  • Good question. Hope you get an answer. – Robusto Jan 28 '11 at 17:21
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    Nice question. Reverse dictionaries totally fail at it, returning casuistry, mutazilite, and land value tax. – RegDwigнt Jan 28 '11 at 17:33
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    @RegDwight: LOL at land value tax. – Marthaª Jan 29 '11 at 0:12
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    When you say, "Doing the right thing for the wrong reason" are you implying that the wrong reason is an underhanded or selfish reason, or could the reason be innocent, but wrong because of the person's ignorance or naivete? – Scott Mitchell Jan 29 '11 at 0:50

10 Answers 10


The word unwittingly seems close, though you may have to qualify it. I found an example I think demonstrates this use (see page 140 in the search results).

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    I agree wholeheartedly on the second half, about getting a correct result from incorrect presumption: unwittingly is a perfect word for that. But acting unwittingly carries a connotation (to me) of acting with incomplete knowledge versus a wrong reason. I agree it's probably the best word so far, +1. – atroon Jan 28 '11 at 22:30
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    I second this. "Doing the right thing for the wrong reason" is a bit more specific than unwittingly, but it's as close as you can get I think. – Noldorin Jan 28 '11 at 23:28

How about a new word: corraccidentally

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I think this question can't have a clear answer because this phrase is quite open.

Think about all the situations where this could be applied.

So going to the root of the problem, I think what this phrase is expressing is that the person isn't aware of all the circumstances (or has the wrong idea) when doing something.

So I agree with @Andy that it might be unwittingly. Or in my opinion inadvertently would be a closer fit to.

That said, it might also be expressed unintentional, since he/she is doing something wrong, thinking its the right thing.

But all those meaning don't cover the harshest way to use this phrase that would make the "accused" a naif, confused or misguided (I like this last actually) since you could be meaning: "although you are doing the right thing, there is not much merit to it, since it's almost by chance, you don't have a philosophy behind your actions (or a wrong one)"

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    i think Trufa's* last paragraph echoes the sort of application for the word. IMO where some one to use unwittingly or unassumingly in conversation, odds are low i would interpret them as in the paragraph. The reason the word unwittingly works in the example cited by Andy is the context within which the word was used. It was after all attempting to explain what we are trying to find a word for. If George Sher knew a word that worked for that connotation, he could have saved himself a few sentences. or perhaps i just need to re-evaluate my relationship with unwittingly. – platframe Jan 29 '11 at 16:11
  • @Martha, thanks for the correction, my bad! And @platframe nicely put. – Trufa Jan 29 '11 at 16:20
  • Misguided came to my mind too. – DMc Jan 11 '12 at 15:09

Serendipitously is the word I would use, although it means something more like "doing the right thing for no reason at all".

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  • This is the correct answer. – Owl Nov 1 '19 at 15:33

The word "Lucky" is frequently used in that situation.

For example, in a case where someone confronted with two doors, decorated with writing in a foreign language, selects the one that is on the right as the "entrance" on the basis that everyone is right handed. He has made a correct selection, based on incorrect information (that is not why the door is the entrance). One might say to him:

"Wow, so you just happened to pick the correct choice despite having faulty reasoning? What a lucky break!"

Although now that I'm thinking about it, the word "Fortuitous" is closer to what I meant.

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  • Why Lucky, I cant undertand when would this be applicable, can you put it a a frase? – Trufa Jan 28 '11 at 21:01
  • I fleshed it out a little bit. Its a very specific/situational application of the phrase, but that situation is one of the most common subtypes of the meta-occurance. – GWLlosa Jan 28 '11 at 21:58
  • This occurs often enough to students in math classes to be recognizable, and is described as getting lucky. The student might be called a Lucky Larry. – Joshua Shane Liberman Jan 29 '11 at 1:09

Ulteriorly. The individual doing the "right thing for the wrong reason" did it ulteriorly.

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I think this might be a candidate: unassumingly

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  • @Jasper Loy getting the right conclusion from the wrong set of presumptions? I would try to argue that I could have unassumingly listened to some foolish advice and acted hastily on it. – Bnjmn Jan 28 '11 at 21:43

An egoist or megalomaniac...is probably someone who would do nice things for someone to build their own rep etc. thus doing something "right" for the "wrong" reason.

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I'd say the person has reached the outcome "fortuitously" or "accidentally" (both mean "by accident or chance")

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Lacking good sense or judgment; unwise.

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