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Action theory

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The philosophy of action is a branch of philosophy that deals with problems relating to human action, its nature, its motivations and intentionality. It is undoubtedly one of the most important branches in the contemporary philosophical debate even if it is primarily Anglo-Saxon philosophers who nourish the discussions. Some of the most debated issues include:

  • The nature of the action (is it necessarily a bodily movement? does intentionality characterize the action?),
  • The problem of the individuation of acts (does moving one’s queen and putting one’s opponent in checkmate are one and the same action?),
  • The problem of the explanation of the action (can intentionality suffice to explain human action or must we also take into account causal phenomena?)

The father of the philosophy of action is unquestionably Aristotle, who laid the foundation for it in Nicomachean Ethics. The most important representatives of the philosophy of action today are Anscombe, Donald Davidson and Paul Ricœur.

The problem of the explanation of human action

It is said that the philosophy of action was born as a result of a famous Wittgenstein question:

What’s left of the fact that I raise my arm if we subtract the fact that my arm is rising?

The philosophy of action asks: what is the nature of human action? What is an intentional action? What is explaining an action? What is the relationship between a reason for action and an action? Are the reasons for acting the causes of the action?

The theorists of action can be divided into two great groups: the causalists – who claim that the reasons for acting are the causes of action – and the non-causalists – who support the opposite. Until the 1960s, non-causalists were largely in the majority (Wittgenstein, Anscombe). The causalist thesis did indeed seem to run up against two seemingly insurmountable arguments: the argument of logical connection and the argument of the hedging laws, to which Donald Davidson was able to give a decisive answer.

The most important philosophers of action are Wittgenstein, Anscombe, Mele, Donald Davidson, Harry Frankfurt, Churchland, Maurice Blondel.

Report of the philosophy of action with the other branches of philosophy

Ethics is the philosophical discipline whose links with the philosophy of action are indisputable. Aristotle was particularly interested in the phenomenon of action in general in an effort to explain the moral action.

Epistemology (as theory of knowledge), phenomenology, and philosophy of language also refer to a philosophy of action because there is no knowledge without language and no language outside action.

Logic makes it possible to affirm whether an action has taken place because it is clear that an action can be appreciated as it takes place or exists. An action always has an author.

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