BASS Sociology and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Philosophy of Action

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHIL30552
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Whenever you say hello to someone, or shake their hand, or kiss their lips, 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?

In this course, we will focus on these and other questions of the philosophy of action.


Pre-requisites: 40 PHIL credits at Level 2


This course aims to:

- Enable students to critically 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 philosophical ideas and arguments in written work.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit successful students will be able to demonstrate:

- Knowledge and understanding of some of the main texts and ideas in contemporary philosophy of action.
- The ability to critically engage with these texts and ideas.
- The ability to present and discuss orally these texts and ideas.
- The ability to present in writing clear, cogent, sustained philosophical arguments, based on relevant background research.

Teaching and learning methods

There will be a mixture of lectures and tutorials. Please note the information in scheduled activity hours are only a guidance and may change.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Group/team working
Oral communication
Written communication

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

The School of Social Sciences (SoSS) is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate fora is it possible for us to feed back on the student's work. The main forms of feedback on this course are written feedback responses to assessed essays and exam answers.

We also draw your attention to the variety of generic forms of feedback available to you on this as on all SoSS courses. These include: meeting the lecturer/tutor during their office hours; e-mailing questions to the lecturer/tutor; asking questions from the lecturer (before and after lecture); and obtaining feedback from your peers during tutorials.

Recommended reading

These introduce many of the issues studied in the course.

Rationality in Action by John R. Searle. The MIT Press (2003)

Action by Rowland Stout. Acumen. (2005)

Intention by G.E.M Anscombe. (Various editions)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Smith Unit coordinator

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