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Action means any human , of motives -led goal- directed activity , be it an action, toleration or omission . It is therefore to be clearly distinguished from acting , which is at most unconsciously motivated and / or takes place without a target. However, this demarcation is sometimes blurred by terms such as act of affect .



The scholasticism than mainstream of medieval philosophy called the What an act "object" (obiectum) and What's sake-the "intention" (intentio) of an action. For example, someone lies (activity / offense) in order to a) gain an advantage (motive) or b) to keep a Jew hidden from the Gestapo (motive). “The motives indicate the for-sake of the action or the goals / purposes” and what is done in an action “proves to be a means to achieve them (the goals / purposes)”.

The structure of an action: the means-to-end relation

The means of action and the purpose of action are the two elements that make up an action: “Actions can only be understood if they are viewed from the point of view of whether they represent a means to achieve the desired goal.” If the means of action actually serves the goal of action, “then one has to check their rationality of the means of the end ( Max Weber ) [...]. ”Structurally, an action consists of three realities: two elements (means and end) and a relation (means of end relation: whether the means of the action corresponds to the end).

Action or composite action: the unity of an action

Actions often consist of several individual acts. The action “have breakfast” means that you make yourself something to drink and eat fruit or bread.

The sentence "Germany waged war in Europe until May 1945 (with the aim of deciding political supremacy in Europe)" grammatically describes an action that in reality consists of many interrelated actions ( alliances of actions) [war economy, political tactics, individual battles within one campaign, several campaigns (war in the east and west) ...]

Several individual actions and groups of actions can be addressed as one action. This raises the question of how a composite action can be distinguished from really different actions. Different actions can be distinguished from a number of individual executions of an action or from a group of actions by the fact that different actions also have different or the same (not "the same"!) Purposes, and that a single group of actions or an act of several individual acts has the same purpose for all of his actions.

The criterion for the unity of an action is therefore whether individual actions or groups of actions have one and the same goal.

Action as a system

The term system means that something individual (e.g. action) can only be adequately understood if it is taken into account what the individual depends on and is co-conditioned (shaped). The fact that an individual cannot be (exists) without another turns an individual into an element in a system : “a totality of elements that are so related to one another and interact in such a way that they are task, meaning or purpose-related Unity can be viewed and in this respect differentiate themselves from the surrounding environment. ”Seen in this way, actions are elements of a comprehensive work in“ work and action systems ”. “Systems organize and maintain themselves through structures. Structure describes the pattern (shape) of the system elements and their interrelationships, through which a system is created, functions and is maintained. Most of these involve relations a mutually it Be influences - from the relationship, a relationship ".

The analysis and description of action in its systemic context leads to an action theory (see below).


Ethics as a philosophical subject considers all action according to a final (absolute) end-means relation - insofar as ethics aims at "providing a comprehensive action orientation [...]". So ethics asks z. For example, whether and under what conditions wars are reasonable (are allowed or even required, so-called just wars ) and what types of warfare are morally prohibited (“unjust wars”). In doing so, it reflects three structural elements:

  • the offense of an act (e.g. civil war against tyrants),
  • the consequences of the action (trade-off theory): whether or under what conditions the bad consequences of an action are to be accepted so that a good purpose of the action can be fulfilled at all ("The theory of trade-offs forms the core of every ethics.") and
  • the highest good (highest aim / purpose) of actions, which normalizes the very first possible good purposes for action (makes them appear good), since “every comprehensive weighing of interests requires that there must be one good”, the other “goods as a measure of Weighing can apply ”- because differently (without a highest good) weighing of goods cannot be presented in a generally understandable way, but are arbitrary or different (from the first indefinite link). Thus, besides the weighing of goods theory, the establishment of the highest good is an essential task of ethics. “For the human person, the ethically highest good also means the goal in life that gives meaning to everything . It answers the identity-forming question about the meaning of life. ”In ethics z. B. discussed the following provisions of the Supreme Good:
    • that every person never uses an action as a means to an end that is not in the interests of the person (human being's end in itself, personal dignity) or
    • the happiness of the greatest possible number or
    • the development of life for all in the long run and as a whole.

If one asks historically (factually, purely militarily) about the rationality of the end-use means of the sentence "Germany waged war in Europe until May 1945", historians agree that the declaration of war against the Soviet Union was not in a rational relation to the objective of action, through the warlike ones Actions from 1939 (attack on Poland, French campaign, air war against England) to gain political supremacy in Europe, because the two-front war overwhelmed the German forces. Let us assume that Germany had not even started the aerial warfare against England, but had politically consolidated the conquered Western and Eastern Europe - would the Polish and French campaigns have been rational? From a purely historical perspective, yes. But the question is: if that would also have been politically good - good in the moral sense (in a sense that applies to all), because politics must ask morally because it can only be justified in general (morally) (can be reasonably accounted for to voters) - it does not want to be a dictatorship - and dictatorships are politically unstable (going under).


For many years, action was only marginally discussed in psychology .

Action is motivated and therefore (usually) goal-oriented. Action strives to satisfy a need or to avoid harm. With the inclusion of motivation, the theory of action addresses the inner processes that mediate between the perception of the environment, the current motive and the action.

Dietrich Dörner created a model that divided action into different stations. It is not important that these stages are processed linearly:

  • Intent selection
  • Goal elaboration
  • Gathering information and forming hypotheses
  • forecast
  • To plan
  • Decision and controlled action

Action is also part of the core area of motivational psychology . Goal-based, motivational psychological theories assume that people (can) set goals according to which they direct their actions. Whether or not a goal is set depends on the extent to which it is experienced as desirable and feasible or is compatible with a strategy or a life plan. On the other hand, action can (theoretically) be traced back to motivational facts.

In neuropsychology too , action and action control are increasingly being investigated today: The concept of executive functions and self-regulation as well as the uncovering of the neurobiological correlates of these functions play a very important role.

In terms of modern psychology and pedagogy, action is above all an instrument of socialization . As an interaction, the issue gains its socializing significance. By acting within a social framework

  • he acquires knowledge
  • he learns to behave in similar situations
  • he gains design skills that enable him to influence his social and material environment (see Competence in Action ).

Livelihood security is provided by the interaction between child and caregiver in early childhood. Children without these or sufficient opportunities for interaction have significant personality disorders that are long-lasting and cannot always be (fully) treated.

People (in old age) without socially relevant options for action get into great psychological distress, consider themselves worthless and feel pushed to the edge of their existence (suicide, depression ).


In the education concerns in particular the actions of the parents, which should in principle be designed to satisfy the child / promote the youth. Encouragement is a complex of different and methodologically well thought-out actions that serve the development of the child and its most effective socialization .

In pedagogy there are various systems that describe actions that could be described as effective or not very effective in terms of the socialization of the child / young person. The discussion about parenting styles is e.g. B. a discussion of action options and their implementation possibilities (especially a systematization of actions). It is similar with the presentation of meaningful and less meaningful measures of education (action complexes) in different situations.

Actions of the educator are usually related to the educational institutions in which they are (should) be realized: educational activities in the family, in pre-school education, in school, in training, etc. In these dynamics, of course, the children (those to be educated ) an outstanding role as a co-designer of the educational situation.

In a completely different context, the educationalist Andreas Gruschka introduced the behavior (of the educator) and its reflection into the training in the 1970s : The educational activities of interns and educators should now be reflected. The approach found its way into teacher training in North Rhine-Westphalia and has been differentiated and systematized in the state's vocational colleges over the past few decades .


Mere action only becomes legally significant when there is a legal act . This presupposes the ability to act under civil law and the ability to commit criminal offenses . From this understanding of the analyzed criminal law in the law , the legal act as a principle at will and the criminal act as culpable : Without some (by law imputed) free will there would be no debt , and therefore no legal punishment .


In particular, “acting” - as social action - has become an important basic concept in sociology .

Individuals ( actors ) can conquer and maintain social positions in society and self-confidence supported by them with the help of meaningful action and design within the framework of work and other forms of action ( art , play). For example, the frequent weaknesses of long-term unemployed people can also be explained as the withdrawal of access to social positions by virtue of their own actions, which could give them social recognition and identity.


Action deception describes in psychology an intentionally misleading act of other people. The perception of this deception results in a reaction to the expected action, which, however, is only deceived and does not correspond to the intent of the deceiver. A higher level of motor experience can improve the detection of deceptions. For example, regular basketball players are better able to perceive deceived actions of the opponent (e.g. passes).

Action theories

See also

Web links

Wikiquote: Action  - Quotes
Wiktionary: act  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rupert Lay: Philosophy for Managers. ECON-Verlag, 1989, ISBN 978-3-430-15914-2 , p. 72.
  2. Peter Knauer: Networks of Action - About the basic principle of ethics. Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-8311-0513-8 , PDF ( Memento of the original from March 9, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ Otfried Höffe: Lexicon of Ethics. Verlag C. H. Beck, 1992 (4), p. 315 f.
  4. ^ A b c Otfried Höffe: Lexicon of Ethics. Verlag C. H. Beck, 1992 (4), p. 316.
  5. a b c system .
  6. Peter Koslowski: Principles of the ethical economy. J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1988, p. 137.
  7. ^ Rupert Lay: Ethics for Managers. ECON Verlag, 1989, p. 85.
  8. Peter Koslowski: Principles of the ethical economy. J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1988, p. 170.
  9. ^ Rupert Lay: About the culture of the company. ECON Verlag, 1992, p. 71.
  10. See: Falko Rheinberg: Motivation . Kohlhammer, 5th edition, Stuttgart 2004.
  11. ^ Sandra V. Müller: Disturbances in the executive functions. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2013.
  12. Norbert Kühne : Interaction as Promotion. In: Praxisbuch Sozialpädagogik. Volume 7, pp. 9-34; Bildungsverlag EINS , Cologne 2009, ISBN 978-3-427-75415-2 .
  13. See developmental psychology or hospitalism ; see also Liselotte Ahnert : Attachment Theory .
  14. Norbert Kühne: Interaction as Promotion. In: Praxisbuch Sozialpädagogik. Volume 7, pp. 9-34; Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2009, ISBN 978-3-427-75415-2 .
  15. ^ A. and R. Tausch: Educational Psychology.
  16. Norbert Kühne : The systematization of pedagogical conceptions in lessons and internships. In: Didacta Nova. Pedagogy lessons - a necessary contribution to school development. Schneider, Hohengehren 1999, ISBN 3-89676-142-0 , p. 108 ff.
  17. Heinz-Gerd Schmitz: On the legitimacy of the criminal penalty. Philosophical Discussions. Berlin 2001, p. 14 ff.
  18. ^ Max Weber : Economy and Society . 1922 u. ö., § 1.