If ontology is a study of being (reality) and epistemology is a study of knowledge, then what would be considered a study of 'doing', or 'action'? I am interested because a statement was made to me recently describing a set of dictum's not as a prescription for 'doing' but a prescription for 'being'.

  • This may contribute to a more formal answer: philpapers.org/browse/philosophy-of-action However, it would help if you could give more context. It's true that being x makes doing what x does easier; the problem is we have to do first in order to be. Like the frustrating ad for a job: only those with experience need apply! Unfortunately, the surgeon must practice on someone to get good, once he really "is" a surgeon (he's practiced on the unwitting), then the doing comes easier; does and is are wrappped tightly together in a vicious circle.
    – Gordon
    Dec 31, 2017 at 21:54
  • Praxeology is the study of action.
    – Lukas
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:02
  • @Lukas. 'Praxeology' I take to be the science of human action, though of course no single science would be adequate to all the descriptive and explanatory tasks. L. von Mises uses the term - did he coin it ? - in 'Human Action', 1949. P. 32 makes some strong claims. I think praxeology extends beyond purely philosophical concerns. This is nothing against it.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 1, 2018 at 22:28
  • "a statement was made to me". A specific quote and source would give the question a context and make it easier to answer. Jan 2, 2018 at 3:00
  • What is action should be first defined. For example, is a striving or a temptation already an (pending) action or not? Besides, the distinction between ontology and epistemology is not ubiquitous, it is only one tradition. Are you expecting an answer rendering specifically this tradition?
    – ttnphns
    Jan 2, 2018 at 9:37

1 Answer 1


Let's start simple. There is a branch of philosophy called precisely 'the philosophy of action'. The larger branch to which this belongs is the philosophy of mind or (a less common term these days but the same thing) philosophical psychology.

Typically the philosophy of action concentrates on human action and poses such questions as : 'what makes an action intentional' ? 'How does a voluntary action differ from an involuntary action ?' 'What type of reasoning lies behind intentional action ?' 'Can we do intentionally what we believe is a wrong course of action ?' This is only a sample from a long list but the list is often defective. At this point we can delve a little deeper.

How so ? Because there is no conceptual necessity to restrict the philosophy of action to the philosophy of human action. Yet this is precisely the characteristic scope of philosophy of action. But surely a monkey or a hippopotamus can act. It may not be able to represent the world as humans do when they act intentionally from beliefs. To deny that they act and that we can conceptualise their actions seems mere dogma.

Another point is that traditionally Western philosophy has centred on human beings as knowers. What can we know ? How can we know ? This has given epistemology a priority over the philosophy of action. Our relation to the world through action, however, may be just as important, if not more so, than our relation through knowledge. What would we know if we never acted ?

  • Can you provide the source, or an argument, according to which the philolosophy of action is part of the philosophy of mind?
    – Lukas
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:04
  • @Lukas. The philosophy of mind is a miscellaneous ragbag of topics; no single thread holds them all together. But the philosophy of action is generally treated under the philosophy of mind as in S. Guttenplan : A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, Oxford : Blackwell : topics 'action (1)', 'action (2)' and 'agency'. The philosophy of action is linked to the philosophy of mind by virtue of action's involving belief, desire and intention, and motive - all of which are philosophy of mind topics. I am not offering an unorthodox view when I include the philosophy of action in philosophy of mind.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 1, 2018 at 22:16
  • I was genuinely interested in the source, as I don't know much about PhilMind, though studied some philosophy of action. We never did any philosophy of mind there, though. Maybe I misread your branch-talk as involving more dependencies among the branches than you wanted to include.
    – Lukas
    Jan 2, 2018 at 11:01
  • @Lukas. I was using 'branch' loosely. I meant only that the philosophy of action is widely taught in the UK as a part of the philosophy of mind - as coming under that broad heading. Thanks for the clarifying explanation. I don't think 'praxeology' is a term widely used in UK philosophy departments - not in any I've known anyway. I quite like the term ! Best - GT.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 2, 2018 at 12:17
  • I only know about the term praxeology through Mises, though I never read Human Action. He changed the bits about praxeology quite substantially in the process of translation from the german Nationalökonomie (at least that's what I've been hearing). I wonder whether teaching philosophy of action in PhilMind classes influences the debates in an interesting way.
    – Lukas
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:12

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