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Can Something Be ‘Indefensible But Understandable’?

“You don’t get very far if you think about evil committed only by psychopaths,” says University of Illinois philosopher Colleen Murphy

The “Indefensible But” defense works like this: You declare the Jan. 6 mob invasion of the Capitol indefensible, but quickly pivot to why it was nevertheless understandable. The invaders were “frustrated” and “angry,” Edward O’Boyle, a retired economics professor in West Monroe, La., wrote in an emailed Jan. 11 article headlined, “Attack on Congress: Indefensible But Understandable.”

In reaction to arguments like this, it’s tempting to conclude that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t call something indefensible but also say it’s understandable. If it’s understandable, it’s not really indefensible, and if it’s indefensible, it’s not really understandable.