Information regarding our 2023/24 admissions cycle

Our 2023/24 postgraduate taught admissions cycle will open on Monday, 10 October. For most programmes, the application form will not open until this date.

MA Political Science - Philosophy and Political Theory

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Philosophy of Action

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHIL70552
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Whenever you say hello to someone, or shake their hand, you perform an action. But what sort of thing is an action? How does doing something differ from undergoing something, or having something done to you? What makes one action the same as, or different from, another action? (If you smile and say hello, is this one action or two?) Many actions involve bodily movements, but are actions identical with bodily movements? Could it be that some actions consist in less than a bodily movement, whereas others consist in more? Are there rational justifications for performing some actions rather than others? If so, what sorts of justifications are they, and what sort of practical thinking or deliberation can enable us to appreciate them? Under what circumstances, if any, is an action either (i) voluntary, (ii) intentional, or (iii) free? What sorts of explanations are explanations of people's actions? Are all actions performed by individuals, or can an action be performed by a group?


The course unit aims to


  • Enable students critically to engage with issues in the philosophy of action;
  • Familiarise students with some important writings in contemporary philosophy of action;
  • Enhance students' ability to present and discuss philosophical issues orally, and their ability to present and evaluate philosophical ideas and arguments in written work.

Learning outcomes

Student is able to


  • Give detailed comparative evaluations of seminal or cutting-edge literature in the philosophy of action;
  • Conduct independent research.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and seminars


Full use of Blackboard will be made, and guidance on access to and effective use of electronic texts will be given.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course unit, participants should have developed:

  • Problem solving skills;
  • Analytic and critical skills;
  • The ability to argue from evidence;
  • The ability to communicate ideas effectively;
  • The ability to set appropriate goals and to work independently and cooperatively;
  • Respect, charity, curiosity, caution and tenacity.
  • Advanced research and presentational skills.
  • Dialectical thinking skills.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Formative feedback on an essay pan. Written feedback on essay and additional oral feedback on request.

Recommended reading

Ford, Anton (2014). ‘Action and Passion’. Philosophical Topics 42 (1):13-42.

Campbell, Lucy (2018). ‘An epistemology for practical knowledge’. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (2):159-177.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Smith Unit coordinator

Additional notes

At least 20% of required reading will be by female authors, and at least 10% by ethnic minority authors. In addition, a textbook by Sarah Paul and a monograph by Elizabeth Anscombe (both female) will be frequently referred to throughout the course unit.

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