Philosophy Action
Adrian Haddock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0003


The philosophy of action shares with its topic a certain uncertainty of location. Is action located inside the mind or outside the mind—or does it in some way belong to both domains (thereby undermining a conception of these domains as sharply distinct)? Likewise, is the philosophy of action part of the philosophy of mind or of moral philosophy—or does it in some way belong to both of these domains (thereby undermining a conception of these domains as sharply distinct)? This entry attempts to treat the philosophy of action as a branch of philosophy in its own right.

Overviews and Anthologies

Moya 1991 and Stout 2005 are the only available introductions to the philosophy of action. Each offers a representative overview of the literature available at the time of its publication. Mele 1997 is a collection of previously published essays, each representative of that branch of the philosophy of action that falls squarely within the philosophy of mind. Hyman and Steward 2004 and Sandis 2009 each collects a diverse range of recent essays on the philosophy of action, and each treats the subject as one of interest to moral philosophers as well as to philosophers of mind. Those seeking to explore current thinking on the topic are advised to start here. Those seeking an overview of current thinking on the topic are advised to start with O’Connor and Sandis 2010, a collection of short pieces on central issues. Wilson 2007 is a helpful, if partisan, summary. And Aguilar and Buckareff 2009, a series of short interviews with a wide range of contemporary philosophers of action, provides a provocative and accessible overview of much of the current state of play.

  • Aguilar, Jesús H., and Andrei A. Buckareff, eds. Philosophy of Action: Five Questions. New York: Automatic, 2009.

    This is a collection of short interviews in which prominent scholars in the field answer five questions about the philosophy of action; their answers shed light not only on their own work, but also on the field as a whole.

  • Hyman, John, and Helen Steward, eds. Agency and Action. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    This collection of essays emerged from a 2002 Royal Institute of Philosophy conference on the philosophy of action and discusses a wide range of issues.

  • Mele, Alfred R., ed. The Philosophy of Action. Oxford Readings in Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    This is a collection of essays on topics in the philosophy of action that will be of particular interest to philosophers of mind, such as the reasons explanation of action, the standard causal story, intention, and mental causation.

  • Moya, Carlos J. The Philosophy of Action: An Introduction. London: Polity, 1991.

    Even though this lively introductory text is now somewhat dated, it offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the literature available at the time of its publication.

  • O’Connor, Timothy, and Constantine Sandis, eds. The Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Action. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010.

    This is a comprehensive and up-to-date anthology of short essays on a large range of topics in the philosophy of action.

  • Sandis, Constantine, ed. New Essays on the Explanation of Action. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    This is an up-to-date collection of new essays that—despite the title—covers a wide range of issues in the epistemology and metaphysics of action.

  • Stout, Rowland. Action. Central Problems of Philosophy. Chesham, UK: Acumen, 2005.

    This is the most up-to-date introduction available. It covers the central topics in a distinctive way: its intention is to show how reflection on action can illuminate what it is to be a conscious subject.

  • Wilson, George. “Action.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2007.

    This fine summary of thinking on the topic is marked by its author’s own concern with the question of how we should understand the explanation of action and by his own distinctive, noncausal, answer to this question.

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