Thought and Action

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Thought and Action
Thought and Action.JPG
Cover of the first edition
Author Stuart Hampshire
CountryUnited Kingdom
Subject Action theory
Publisher Chatto and Windus
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
ISBN 978-0268018474

Thought and Action is a 1959 book about action theory by the philosopher Stuart Hampshire. The book has received praise from commentators, and is considered Hampshire's major work.



He argues that empiricist theories of perception descending from the philosophers George Berkeley and David Hume mistakenly represent people as passive observers receiving impressions from "outside" of the mind, where the "outside" includes their own bodies. [1]

Hampshire's central argument revolves around the idea that human actions are not solely determined by external factors or instinctual drives but are deeply intertwined with cognitive processes, particularly thought and intention. He explores the intricate ways in which our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and emotions influence our actions and decision-making. Hampshire contends that individuals are not passive agents but actively engage in reasoning and deliberation before committing to a course of action.

Furthermore, the book discusses the role of freedom and responsibility in the context of human actions. Hampshire addresses the question of whether individuals have genuine agency in their choices and actions or if they are subject to deterministic forces. He argues for a nuanced perspective that acknowledges both the constraints of external circumstances and the autonomy of human agency. [2]

Publication history

Thought and Action was first published by Chatto and Windus in 1959. [3]


The historian Peter Gay wrote that Thought and Action is a "brilliant" and "lucid" contribution to the philosophy of action, and a subtle vindication of free will. [4] The philosopher Roger Scruton credited Hampshire with providing a seminal discussion of two contrasting outlooks on the future that can be called "predicting and deciding". [5] The philosopher R. S. Downie described Thought and Action as Hampshire's major work, [6] while the philosopher Anthony Quinton wrote that Hampshire's "systematic aim and fine mandarin prose were both unusual for an Oxford philosopher of the time." [7]

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