Capacity and character: towards a conceptual analysis

by Filippo Santoni de Sio

The concepts of capacity and character play a similar role in common language. They are used to attribute some enduring properties to persons, through which to recognize, understand and assess their actions and failures. They are similar also in possessing an essentially normative nature. In this presentation a conceptual analysis of “capacity” and “character” is proposed. The methodology will be similar to that suggested by J.L. Austin in A plea for excuses (1956) – relying on legal and psychological literature to sharpen our understanding of common concepts without being confused by philosophical bias. This analysis will show that whereas the concept of capacity plays an irreplaceable role in describing, understanding and assessing people’s actions, the concept of character is not basic in the same sense. This may hopefully help to clarify and solve some well-known philosophical questions concerning capacity, character and responsibility.