Philosophical Studies

, Volume 158, Issue 2, pp 361–376 | Cite as

Absence of action

  • Randolph Clarke

When I raise my arm, my raising my arm is an event. When I stop at the store and buy milk, my doing so is a process. When I omit to raise my arm or to stop and buy milk, what, if anything, is my not doing these things? What, in general, are omissions to act?

Sometimes when someone refrains from doing a certain thing, the agent performs an action of preventing himself from so acting. A policeman might hold his arm at his side to keep from shooting a fleeing suspect.1 But in many cases of omission there’s no such action. When I forget to stop and buy milk, my omission seems to be, in the first place, an absence, the absence of an action by me of buying milk.2 But what is an absence of an action?

Many things are absent from the world—many objects (unicorns), many states (perfect virtue), and many events (a World Series triumph by the Cubs in the last hundred years). If these things existed, they would be entities of various sorts. Are the absences of these things beings of some kind? If...


Causal Relation Causal Effect Causal Power Negative State Genuine Property 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



For helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper, I want to thank Kent Bach, Mark Balaguer, Sara Bernstein, John Heil, Stephen Kearns, Al Mele, Achille Varzi, and the audience at the 2011 Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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