Elements of the philosophy of action

Lennart Nordenfelt

in Rationality and Compulsion

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780199214853
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754517 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Elements of the philosophy of action

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Above, I have made a number of distinctions among actions. These distinctions are of very different order. First, I have made the fundamental logical distinction between action-types and action-instances, and between action-types of various degrees of specification. Second, I have distinguished between such actions as have a terminating end, the acts, and such as do not, the activities. Third, I have noted that actions may be distinguished along dimensions of complication. I have focused on two such dimensions. One dimension concerns the number of conditions in the external world that have to be fulfilled in order for an action of a certain type to occur. This led me to the fundamental distinction between natural actions and conventional actions, the latter being actions which have come into being through conventional stipulation. The second dimension concerns how actions can be added to each other to form action-complexes, by me called action-chains and action-sequences. Furthermore I have distinguished between rational and irrational actions in different senses of these terms. Finally, I have discussed and tried to assess the appropriateness of the idea of degrees of excellence with regard to actions. These grounds for divisions among actions are certainly not the only conceivable ones.

We can conceive of other forms of complexity, for instance the degree of effort needed for performing the basic action(s) involved. We can classify basic actions as to anatomical location. We can classify actions as to their significance and place in human life. These are kinds of classification that are pertinent to the field of health care and to which I will return in Part 2 of this book.

Chapter.  15170 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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