About this topic
Summary "Action Theory" as it is used here is the sub-area in the philosophy of action/agency that is concerned chiefly with the foundations of the broader sub-discipline. Central problems include the nature and scope of intentional action and agency, the explanation of action, and our knowledge of our actions. Most of the other problems that fall within the scope of this category at PhilPapers are closely related to such foundational questions.
Key works Perhaps the two most influential works that have shaped the current state of action theory are Anscombe 1957 and Davidson 1963. Davidson's essay is the locus classicus for the causal theory of action and for causalism about reason-explanations of actions. Anscombe's book has been influential among proponents of non-causal theories of action and reason-explanation. For a classic defense of the agent-causal perspective, see Chisholm 1966. And for a volitionist perspective, see McCann 1974. Some collections of essays that may help readers get a sense of the major debates in action theory today include Mele Alfred 1997, Aguilar & Buckareff 2010, Aguilar & Buckareff 2009, and D'Oro & Sandis 2013.
Introductions The following are good places to start to for those looking for guides to the current state of the art in action theory. Mele 2005 Mele 1992 Wilson 2008
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  1. Raziel Abelson (1969). Action and Purpose. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 66 (6):178-192.
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  2. Forrest E. Baird (1992). Human Thought and Action. Upa.
    A book of readings in Western intellectual history focusing on the role of reason in human action. Contents:^ Plato: Myth of the Cave; Plato: ^IThe Four Virtues; Aristotle: Knowledge of Causes; Aristotle: The Types of Governments; Epicurus: Epicureanism; Epictetus: Stoicism; St. Augustine: The Platonist; St. Augustine: The Nature of Sources of Evil; St. Thomas Aquinas: The Four Laws; St. Thomas Aquinas: The Nature of the Soul; Pico: The Oration on the Dignity of Man; John Calvin: Reason, Sin and Illumination; St. (...)
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  3. S. J. Boey (2013). De dubbele oorspronkelijkheid Van blondels “action”. Bijdragen 24 (2):130-153.
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  4. Julia Cassaniti (2012). Agency and the Other: The Role of Agency for the Importance of Belief in Buddhist and Christian Traditions. Ethos 40 (3):297-316.
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  5. Michael Cohen (1970). V—The Same Action. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 70 (1):75-92.
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  6. David Copp (2015). Social Glue and Norms of Sociality. Philosophical Studies 172 (12):3387-3397.
    If we are going to understand morality, it is important to understand the nature of societies. What is fundamental to them? What is the glue that holds them together? What is the role of shared norm acceptance in constituting a society? Michael Bratman’s account of modest sociality in his book, Shared Agency, casts significant light on these issues. Bratman’s account focuses on small-scale interactions, but it is instructive of the kinds of factors that can enter into explaining sociality more generally. (...)
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  7. Janusz Czelakowski, Freedom and Enforcement in Action.
    Situational aspects of action are discussed. The presented approach emphasizes the role of situational contexts in which actions are performed. These contexts influence the course of an action; they are determined not only by the current state of the system but also shaped by other factors as time, the previously undertaken actions and their succession, the agents of actions and so on. The distinction between states and situations is explored from the perspective of action systems. The notion of a situational (...)
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  8. Brian Davies (1994). The Action of God. New Blackfriars 75 (879):76-84.
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  9. Lawrence H. Davis (1976). Analytical Philosophy of Action. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 73 (4):99-107.
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  10. Gábor Erdélyi, Markus Nowak & Jörg Rothe (2009). Sincere-Strategy Preference-Based Approval Voting Fully Resists Constructive Control and Broadly Resists Destructive Control. Mathematical Logic Quarterly 55 (4):425-443.
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  11. Luther H. Evans (1962). Some Proposals for Action. Isis 53 (1):101-105.
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  12. B. G. (1938). L'action. Tome II. L'action Humain Et les Conditions de Son Aboutissement. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 35 (8):222-222.
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  13. B. G. (1937). L'Action. Vol. I. Le Problème des Causes Secondes Et le Pur Agir. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 34 (19):527-527.
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  14. Hans Johann Glock, Animals: Agency, Reasons and Reasoning.
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  15. J. W. C. Gunn (1922). The Action Ofeucomis Undulata, Ait. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 10 (1):1-4.
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  16. J. W. C. Gunn (1921). The Action Ofurginea Burkei. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 9 (2):197-204.
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  17. Stuart Hampshire (2016). 3. Thought and Action. In Bernard Williams (ed.), Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002. Princeton University Press. pp. 8-17.
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  18. A. H. Hannay (1942). VII—Action. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 42 (1):141-150.
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  19. John Hyman (2015). Action, Knowledge, & Will. Oxford University Press UK.
    Human agency has four irreducibly different dimensions -- psychological, ethical, intellectual, and physical -- which the traditional idea of a will tended to conflate. Twentieth-century philosophers criticized the idea that acts are caused by 'willing' or 'volition', but the study of human action continued to be governed by a tendency to equate these dimensions of agency, or to reduce one to another. Cutting across the branches of philosophy, from logic and epistemology to ethics and jurisprudence, Action, Knowledge, and Will defends (...)
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  20. Edgar Johnson (1924). Maurice Blondel's Philosophy of Action. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 21 (23):641-642.
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  21. P. L. K. (1943). The Great Learning and the Mean-in-Action. [REVIEW] Journal of Philosophy 40 (13):363-363.
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  22. Benedikt Kahmen (2013). Intentions, Intentional Actions and Practical Knowledge. In Markus Stepanians & Benedikt Kahmen (eds.), Critical Essays on "Causation and Responsibility". De Gruyter. pp. 253-270.
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  23. R. King, Changing Things: Aristotle on Action and the Capacity for Action in Metaphysics IX, 5.
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  24. Gordon D. Logan, Trisha Van Zandt, Frederick Verbruggen & Eric-Jan Wagenmakers (2014). On the Ability to Inhibit Thought and Action: General and Special Theories of an Act of Control. Psychological Review 121 (1):66-95.
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  25. Yannig Luthra (2016). Non-Rational Aspects of Skilled Agency. Philosophical Studies 173 (8):2267-2289.
    This paper criticizes two closely connected rationalist views about human agency. The first of these views, rationalism about agential control, claims that the capacities for agential control in normal adult human beings are rational capacities. The second view, rationalism about action, claims that the capacities for agential control in virtue of which the things we do count as our actions are rational capacities. The arguments of the paper focus on aspects of technical skills that control integral details of skillful action, (...)
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  26. Pentti Määttänen, Mind in Action.
    In colloquial language habit of action may refer to blind routine behaviour or bad bodily habits that one should get rid of. In pragmatism it is a central notion in challenging classical philosophy by explaining how habits function as beliefs and meanings, as vehicles of cognition.
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  27. Alasdair MacIntyre & Andrei Korbut (2013). A Mistake About Causality in Social Science. Russian Sociological Review 12 (1):139-157.
    The article considers the problem of actions–beliefs link. As author shows, the widespread approach in social science, those origins can be traced back to Hume and Mill and which tries to reveal the causal relations between beliefs and actions, is mistaken. It is mistaken because it proposes that, firstly, beliefs and actions are distinct and separately identifiable social phenomena and, secondly, causal connection consists in constant conjunction. MacIntyre, instead, proposes, taking as a starting point the distinction between physical movement and (...)
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  28. Graeme MacQueen (2008). WhatValues Underlie Our Actions? In Neil Arya & Joanna Santa Barbara (eds.), Peace Through Health: How Health Professionals Can Work for a Less Violent World. Kumarian Press. pp. 1075.
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  29. V. Mangalvedkar (1919). The Philosophy of Action of Lok. B.G. Tilak's Githarahasya. Indian Literature Publishers.
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  30. Roman Altshuler Michael J. Sigrist (ed.) (forthcoming). Time and the Philosophy of Action. Routledge.
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  31. John Mullarkey, Almost Nothing Happening: An Essay on Action and Event.
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  32. Allen Neuringer & Greg Jensen (2010). Operant Variability and Voluntary Action. Psychological Review 117 (3):972-993.
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  33. C. O'Connor, Sandis, T. (ed.) (2010). A Companion to the Philosophy of Action. Blackwell.
    _A Companion to the Philosophy of Action_ offers a comprehensive overview of the issues and problems central to the philosophy of action. The first volume to survey the entire field of philosophy of action Brings together specially commissioned chapters from international experts Discusses a range of ideas and doctrines, including rationality, free will and determinism, virtuous action, criminal responsibility, Attribution Theory, and rational agency in evolutionary perspective Individual chapters also cover prominent historic figures from Plato to Ricoeur Can be approached (...)
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  34. L. O'Hea (1934). Catholic Action and Unemployables. New Blackfriars 15 (174):606-609.
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  35. Pan Tianqun (2010). Conversation Through Actions and the Changing of Epistemic States in a Game. Frontiers of Philosophy in China 5 (4):666-673.
    When a person performs a certain action, it signifies that he is causing a certain event to occur. Therefore the action is conveying a certain true sentence. Playing a game is a mutual activity, namely the listener and the speaker undertake an exchange through a linguistic dialogue or communicate through action. Because of the peculiar nature of the action, the actions in games belong to an activity where the speaker speaks true words and the listener hears true words. A static (...)
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  36. Sharli Anne Paphitis, Control and Vulnerability : Reflections on the Nature of Human Agency and Personhood.
    Following the writings of philosophers such as Harry Frankfurt, Gary Watson, and Alfred Mele, in this thesis I defend some central claims of the self-control view of human agency. However, I not only defend, but also supplement this view in the following two ways. First, drawing on work by Mary Midgley and Sigmund Freud I advance the claim that self-control requires the experience of internal conflict between an agent’s motivations and intentions. Second, drawing on insights from Simone de Beauvoir and (...)
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  37. H. Peak (1933). An Evaluation of the Concepts of Reflex and Voluntary Action. Psychological Review 40 (1):71-89.
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  38. Thomas Pink & M. W. F. Stone (eds.) (2014). The Will and Human Action: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Routledge.
    What is the will? And what is its relation to human action? Throughout history, philosophers have been fascinated by the idea of 'the will': the source of the drive that motivates human beings to act. However, there has never been a clear consensus as to what the will is and how it relates to human action. Some philosophers have taken the will to be based firmly in reason and rational choice, and some have seen it as purely self-determined. Others have (...)
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  39. Thomas Pink & M. W. F. Stone (eds.) (2004). The Will and Human Action: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Routledge.
    What is the will? And what is its relation to human action? Throughout history, philosophers have been fascinated by the idea of 'the will': the source of the drive that motivates human beings to act. However, there has never been a clear consensus as to what the will is and how it relates to human action. Some philosophers have taken the will to be based firmly in reason and rational choice, and some have seen it as purely self-determined. Others have (...)
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  40. Daisie M. Radner (1993). Directed Action and Animal Communication. Ration 6 (2):135-54.
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  41. Lubomira V. Radoilska, Review of David Hunter, 'Belief and Agency'. [REVIEW]
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  42. Shahram Rafieian (2012). A Biosemiotic Approach to the Problem of Structure and Agency. Biosemiotics 5 (1):83-93.
    A human being is the simultaneous composite of several different levels of being, from atomic and subatomic to the level of complex social interaction, and these levels are nested within the individual hierarchically (lower levels giving rise to higher levels, etc.). One of the most important and influential approaches developed in the history of science has been that of systems theory and systemic thinking, in which the different levels of the hierarchy, and the interactions between those levels, are considered simultaneously. (...)
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  43. K. W. Rankin (1972). The Non-Causal Self-Fulfillment of Intention. American Philosophical Quarterly 9 (4):279 - 289.
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  44. Erich Rast (2014). Harming Yourself and Others: A Note on the Asymmetry of Agency in Action Evaluations. Polish Journal of Philosophy 8 (2):65-74.
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  45. David Rayfield (1968). Action. Noûs 2 (2):131-145.
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  46. Tim Räz, The Necessity of Learning for Agency.
    The present paper examines the notion of agency using a model from artificial intelligence. The main thesis of the paper is that learning is a necessary condition for agency: Agency presupposes control, and control is acquired in a learning process. This thesis is explored using the so-called PS model. After substantiation the thesis, the paper explores the relation between agency and different kinds of learning using the PS model.
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  47. William M. Reddy (2001). The Logic of Action: Indeterminacy, Emotion, and Historical Narrative. History and Theory 40 (4):10–33.
    Modern social theory, by and large, has aimed at reducing the complexity of action situations to a set of manageable abstractions. But these abstractions, whether functionalist or linguistic, fail to grasp the indeterminacy of action situations.Action proceeds by discovery and combination. The logic of action is serendipitous and combinative. From these characteristics, a number of consequences flow: The whole field of our intentions is engaged in each action situation, and cannot really be understood apart from the situation itself. In action (...)
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  48. Margaret E. Reesor (1990). The Hellenistic Stoa. Political Thought and Action. Review of Metaphysics 44 (1):139-140.
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  49. Ken Reid (2010). Improving Attendance and Behaviour in Wales: The Action Plan. Educational Studies 36 (3):233-247.
    The National Behaviour and Attendance Review Report for Wales was produced in 2008. Subsequently, its recommendations were accepted by the Welsh Assembly Government which established an Implementation Group to prepare its response in detail. A year later in April 2009 this Group presented its findings and recommendations to WAG in the form of an Action Plan. The Action Plan was entitled Behaving and Attending: Responding to the National Behaviour and Attendance Review. The intention of the Action Plan is to help (...)
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  50. Norvin Richards (1976). E Pluribus Unum: A Defense of Davidson's Individuation of Action. Philosophical Studies 29 (3):191 - 198.
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