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Volume 51 • Number 1

January 2014



Action as Interaction

by Kristina Gehrman

What is action? It can be tempting to think of an action like a sort of missile, with a point of origin in the agent, and a terminus in the world that the agent aims to impact. But in what follows I argue that action is much better conceived as a certain type of interaction, or relation, between an agent and her environment. Specifically, actions are mind-guided, world-responsive, agentinitiated interactions, which are shaped by the agent’s discriminating sense of what the world calls for. According to this conception of action, the norms of action are the norms of an interaction. They are thus both interestingly complex, and non-trivially objective. To explain the idea that action is a kind of interaction, I’d like to begin with the commonsense idea that agency, or the capacity for action, is a characteristic of some things in the world but not others. And, like anything else, agency and action have certain distinguishing, typifying traits or marks. Identifying these distinctive marks is one way to answer the question What is action? To this end, we can start with an observation made by Harry Frankfurt in “The Problem of Action.” There, Frankfurt remarks that actions are distinguished from other kinds of happenings by the fact that, in the case of action, “the movements as they occur are under the [agent’s] guidance.”¹

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ISSN: 2152-1123