© 2018

The Metaphysics of Action

Trying, Doing, Causing

  • Argues for a novel thesis about trying and causing and presents a new conception of action which locates action in the world as well as the surface of an agent's body

  • Discusses trying, doing, and agent causing, and the metaphysics needed to explain them

  • Makes a case for the role of the much contested concept of analytic metaphysics in philosophy of action


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-x
  2. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 1-12
  3. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 13-51
  4. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 53-101
  5. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 103-163
  6. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 165-221
  7. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 223-267
  8. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 269-301
  9. David-Hillel Ruben
    Pages 303-332
  10. Back Matter
    Pages 333-351

About this book


In this book, the author provides an account of three central ideas in the philosophy of action: trying to act, acting or doing, and one’s action causing further consequences. In all three cases, novel theories of these phenomena are offered: trying to act is not a particular mental or physical act but can be explained using conditionals; that action is not the same as causing something to happen; and in the case of a special but important subset of actions, for example the opening of a window, the action is identical to the event of the window’s opening. A result of this last account is that it places actions out in the world, sometimes far removed in time and space from the actor’s body. The world is full of action; actions do not just exist in the many little islands of space and time that all of our bodies inhabit. In the final chapter, Ruben describes and discusses a skeptical challenge to the idea that we can ever know whether or not someone else has acted, rather than just passive events having happened to that person. 


philosophy of action analytic metaphysics agent causation intention trying

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of LondonLondonUnited Kingdom

About the authors

David-Hillel Ruben is Professor Emeritus at the University of London, UK, and Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. Having previously worked at the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Essex University, City University, London School of Economics, his past publications include The Metaphysics of the Social World (1985), Explaining Explanation (1992 and 2012) and Action and Its Explanation (2003).

Bibliographic information


“The Metaphysics of Action is a treasure-trove of puzzles, examples, and distinctions concerning action and its individuation. … Ruben’s work is thorough, meticulous, and refreshing.” (Constantine Sandis, The Philosophical Quarterly, September 24, 2019)

“It is a deep dive into philosophical linguistic analysis, in which he scrutinizes grammar and usage to clarify thinking about trying, action, and causation. Ruben devotes a great deal of space to discussion and critique of competing accounts, in the process ranging widely over the analytic scholarship on action. … Summing Up: Optional. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.” (D. A. Forbes, Choice, Vol. 56 (11), July, 2019)

“What are actions? In this densely-argued and thought-provoking work, David-Hillel Ruben sets out to answer this question, by way of an examination of some of the ideas that have gained currency over the last 50 years or so of philosophy of action … . This is a book for serious aficionados of philosophy of action.” (Helen Steward, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews,, December, 18, 2018)