The Importance of Capacities

Capacity and Truth/Knowledge; Capacity and Freedom; Capacity and ‘Social Justice’

Photo by Tim J on Unsplash

The other day I was writing about truth, knowledge, and justice. It dawned on me that there is a relationship between ‘capacity’ and all of those.

Specifically, I was writing about people having the capacity to accept or reject any proffered ‘truth’ or ‘knowledge’. More than once I caught myself thinking “freedom” in place of “capacity.” Voila! To have the ‘capacity to’ is to have the ‘freedom to’ — or at least, without the former the latter is irrelevant (to oneself). Since in this nation (the U.S.) freedom and justice are closely related, that got me to thinking about the relationship between capacity and justice.

When it comes to accepting/rejecting truth and knowledge, capacity and freedom are perfectly coextensive: to have the capacity is to have the freedom. That’s because truth and knowledge are immaterial things. They are outcomes of the immaterial processes of thinking, feeling, etc., and choosing. They can be influenced by external factors, but they take place within a person’s inner self.

Those internal processes can also in turn lead to material outcomes, but of themselves they are wholly within and under the control of the person. They are thereby instances of unconstrained freedom: a person can think, feel, or believe absolutely anything one wants.

A person can also choose whatever one wants, but choosing can bring materiality into the process: to ‘realize’ a choice (other than a choice to continue in one’s inner processes), to bring it to fruition, requires some physical action. Physical actions always produce material outcomes. So when it comes to choosing (something material), materiality intervenes between capacity and freedom. Our capacities constrain our material freedom.

Few people think that our innate capacities, those with which we are born, are a matter of justice/injustice. We can develop them and even overcome incapacities, but, as a ‘starting point’ in life for us as individuals, most people agree that the distribution of innate capacities/incapacities is not an issue of justice/injustice.

People do make the case that differences in socioeconomic status do affect innate capacities via such things as prenatal care, much less more tenuous connections that can be said to exist between the material well-being and innate capacities. Some people immediately deride any such concerns as ‘socialism’.

The fact is that our capacities are not limited to those with which we are born. There are other capacities that irrefutably directly affect our freedom: acquired capacities: money/wealth, education, etc.

The point is that the availability of all such capacities is determined by society. Societies are the creations of human beings, not God. Every society is what it is due to the actions of human beings. Forget having the ‘right’: as human beings we have a duty to address the issue of justice in the distribution of acquired capacities in whatever society we happen to live. That’s what ‘social justice’ is.

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