Actions and their context

Authored by: Günter Figal

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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Philosophical theory of action has a charter not difficult to discover. The first page of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (NE) includes all essentials that have been dominating pertinent philosophical discussions till today. Stating the teleological character of actions, of production as well as of action in the narrower sense, Aristotle makes clear how activities can be determined such as to become actions. Only because actions have a particular aim, they are not just indiscernible moments in a continuous stream of life that are inseparable from each other like waves. Their respective aims make them intelligible; a particular action is defined by its aiming at a particular aim. Aims also function as unifiers of different effects and accomplishments performed by someone. Regarded as contributions to the realization of a particular aim, different accomplishments can be coordinated in order to complement each other. Since every contribution to realizing a particular aim is part of a particular action, the question ‘What are you doing?’ can best be answered by designating the aim one has intended and, if necessary, by explaining how particular accomplishments fit into the action they belong to. Such fitting is neither by nature nor does it just happen. Rather, it is the result of intelligently planning and efficiently coordinating different accomplishments so that they form an action as consistent as possible, or, to be brief, the result of technical and practical knowledge. Knowing for instance how to make a bowl or how to give a lecture, one is able to choose and coordinate different accomplishments as means for a particular aim, and, realizing them, to reach the aim in respect to which they could be understood as means.

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