We are often advised to know our limitations, and to plan our actions in light of them. It’s not a good idea to plan to pull an all-nighter to write a paper when you typically have trouble staying up to midnight, and it’s also unwise to think that you can read, understand, and craft polished prose about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason over a span of ten hours, even if you can manage to stay awake and focused for that interval.
More positively, knowing your limitations entails that you have some sense of what you are capable of doing with the resources that you accurately assess to be at your disposal. Looking at the sign indicating that the ski run you’re approaching is a black diamond, you may assess that you have the requisite skill and possess the appropriate equipment to make it safely and enjoyably along that route. Much of our sense of our own well-being is caught up in the accuracy of our self-assessments of our own physical and mental capacities.
Knowing your limitations and your powers doesn’t tell you what you ought to do, except insofar as you ought not attempt to do what you can’t do. As we attribute to Immanuel Kant: Ought implies can (Critique of Judgment). But among the vast variety of actions that you can undertake, what ought you to do? And what happens when you discover that you can do much more than you thought you could do? That’s the question raised in “Mr Dingle – The Strong.” Of course the relevant question isn’t what would you do, but what would the average person do, and would that be what one ought to do?
Before he aquires new powers, Mr. Dingle does indeed know his limitations. He cowers when bullied by his acquaintances at the local bar. The visiting aliens choose Mr. Dingle as the subject of their experiment for just this reason. He’s the weakest person they have found and he knows that he is weak. They give him additional strength, making him three hundred times stronger than the average human. What happens when the weakest human discovers that he is the strongest?
Mr. Dingle does not use his new powers for good, but merely switches places with his tormentors, and does to them what they did to him. It’s machismo and revenge gone wild. The aliens are disappointed, but not surprised. As they abort the failed experiment, they look forward to trying again on another planet, one in which there are only women! Chances are that they’ll have better luck.