The idea of action is so familiar to us that a definition may as easily obscure as explain it. Some Schoolmen, however, attempt to express its nature by "A manifestation of the power or energy of a substance; made either within or without it." Thus, they say, when the mind acts, what does it do more than perceive a vital power exerting itself? In reality, the several actions of the mind are no other than so many indications of its vitality.
It is a point debated among the Schoolmen whether action, thus taken, is a thing distinct both from the agent and the term or effect—The Modists stand for the affirmative, and the Nominalists assert the negative.
These latter observe that action may be considered in two ways: Entitatively and Connotatively. Action entitatively taken is what we call a cause, or what may act. Action connotatively considered is the same cause, only considered as acting or connoting the effect it produces. Now, they say, a cause may be without action, connotatively taken, i.e., may be considered as not producing an effect; but cannot be without it entitatively, for that would be to be without itself. Hence they conclude that the cause differs from the action connotatively, not entitatively taken; and the agent is the cause of the action, considered connotatively, not entitatively.
Actions are divided, with respect to their principle, into Univocal, where the effect is of the same kind as the cause; as the production of man by man: and Equivocal, where it is different; as the production of frogs by the sun. See Univocal and Equivocal; see also Generation, etc.—And again, into Vital; as Nutrition, Respiration, the action of the Heart, etc. See Nutrition, Respiration, Heart, etc. And not Vital; as Heating. See Vital, Heat, etc.
With respect to their subject, actions are divided into Immanent; which are received within the agent that produced them: as are all vital actions, Cogitation, etc. See Thinking, Willing, etc. And Transient, which pass into another. See Transient, etc.
In respect of duration, actions are again divided into Instantaneous, where the whole effect is produced in the same moment; as the Creation of Light: And Successive, where the effect is produced by degrees; as Corruption, Fermentation, Putrefaction, Dissolution, etc. See Fermentation, Putrefaction, Dissolution, etc.
The Cartesians resolve all physical action into metaphysical: Bodies, according to them, do not act on one another; the action all comes immediately from the Deity. The motions of bodies, which seem to be the cause, are only the occasions thereof. See Occasional Cause.
It is one of the Laws of Nature that action and reaction are always equal and contrary to each other. See Reaction and Nature.
For the actions of Powers, etc., see Power, Weight, Motion, Resistance, Friction, etc.
For the Laws of the action of Fluids, etc., see Fluid, Specific Gravity, etc.
Action, in Ethics or Moral Action, is a voluntary motion of a creature capable of distinguishing good and evil, whose effect, therefore, may be justly imputed to the agent. See Moral.
A Moral Action may be more fully defined to be whatever a person, considered as endowed with the powers of understanding and willing, and with respect to the end he ought to aim at, and the rule he is to regard in acting; resolves, thinks, does, or even omits to do; in such a manner as to become accountable for what is thus done or omitted, and the consequences thereof. See Office.
The foundation, then, of the morality of actions is that they are done knowingly and voluntarily. See Understanding and Will.
All moral actions may be divided, with respect to the rule, into good and evil. See Good and Evil.
Action, in Oratory, is an accommodation of the person of the orator to his subject; or, a management of the voice and gesture, suited to the matter spoken or delivered. See Oratory.
Action makes one of the great branches or divisions of rhetoric, as usually taught. See Rhetoric.
The ancients usually call it Pronunciation. See Pronunciation.
Action is a collateral or secondary method of expressing our ideas and is susceptible of a kind of eloquence as well as the primary. It is an address to our external senses which it endeavors to move and bring into its party by a well-concerted motion and modulation, at the same time that reason and understanding are attacked by the force of argument. Accordingly, Cicero very pertinently calls it "Sermo Corporis," the discourse of the body; and "Corporis Eloquentia," the eloquence of the body. The Roman mimes and pantomimes, we read, had such a "copia" in this kind, such a compass even of mute action, that voice and language seemed useless to them. They could make themselves understood to people of all nations, and Roscius, the comedian, is particularly famed as being able to express any sentence by his gestures, as significantly and variously as Cicero with all his oratory. See Mime, Pantomime, etc.
Quintilian gives us a system of the rules of action, taken not only from the writings of the ancient orators but from the best examples of the Forum. See his Institut. Orat. L. XI. c, 3. de Pronuntiatione.
The force and effect of action, at least as practiced among the ancients, appear to be very great; scarcely anything was able to withstand it. What we usually attribute to eloquence was really the effect of the action only, as some of the greatest masters in that way have frankly acknowledged. Demosthenes explicitly calls it, "the beginning, the middle, and the end of the orator's office;" and Cicero professes that 'it does not matter so much what the orator says as how he says it.' "Neque tantumne refert qualia sunt quae dicas, quam quomodo dicantur." De Orat. Hence, the great Greek orator is represented as practicing and adjusting his action in the glass: "Demosthenes grande quoddam intuens speculum componere actionem solebat." Quintil.
Each part of the body is by them enlisted into the service and marshaled in its proper place: The hand, the eye, head, neck, sides, cheeks, nostrils, lips, arms, shoulders, etc. "Precipuum in Actione, Caput est—Cum gestu concordet, & Lateribus obsequatur. Oculi, palpebra, Supercilium, Genae, Rubor. — Non manus sola sed etiam Nutus."
The hand is master of a whole language, or set of signs, itself—Even every finger is laid down by the ancients as having its distinct office; and hence the different names they still bear, Pollex, Index, etc. See Finger, etc. By such a multitude of rules and observances, it is no wonder some of the orators of those, as of our days, were perverted more than profited.—Rules only tend to perfect the action, which must have its origin from another source, viz. nature, and good sense: Where those are deficient, rules will sooner make an ape than an actor, Eloquentiae, says Cicero, sicut & reliquarum rerum fundamentum, sapientia.—And hence we find the great masters abovementioned continually softening, and even unsaying, and calling people off from the intemperate use of their own rules.—Nulle argutiae Digitorum, Non ad numerum Articulorum Cadens. Cicero even assures us, he was a whole year in learning to keep his hand within his gown. Pro Col.—The same author, recommending a motion of the whole body, says, the orator should make more use of his trunk than of his hand; Trunco magis toto se ipse moderans, & virili laterum flexione. Brut.
Walking, accessus, is sometimes recommended as highly deserving to be cultivated; but Cicero will scarce allow it to be used at all, It seems, some of the active orators of that time had rendered it ridiculous; one of whom was pleasantly asked by Flavius Virginius, "How many miles he had declaimed?" Cassius Severus, when he perceived an orator given to walking, used to cry out for a line to be drawn round him, to keep him within bounds.—The orator Zicyus improved walking into a sort of dancing; and it is hence, as we are told by Quintilian, that the dance Zicyus took its name. Funius rallied his father Curio's incessant libration, or tossing from one side to another, by asking who that was, haranguing in a ferry-boat? And to the like effect was that of C. Steinius, when Curio having spoke with his usual bustle near Octavius, who by reason of his infirmities, had divers liniments and plasters on his limbs; "You can never be enough thankful, Octavius, to your good colleague, who has saved you this day from being eaten by the flies." Demosthenes, being naturally apt to be too busy, and especially with his shoulders, is said to have reformed himself by speaking in a narrow pulpit, and hanging a spear pointed just over his shoulders; that if in the heat of his discourse he should forget himself, the puncture might remind him.
After all, it's a point that will bear being controverted, whether action ought to be practiced and encouraged at all? A thing that has so much command over mankind, it's certain, must be very dangerous; since it is as capable of being turned to our disadvantage as our advantage. It's putting a weapon in the hands of another, which, if he pleases, he may make use of to subdue and enslave us: And accordingly, history is full of the pernicious uses made thereof.—For this reason, eloquence and action are generally discouraged in modern policy; and both the bar and the pulpit are brought to a more frigid way of delivery. Perhaps the foundation of all action may be vicious and immoral.—Voice and gesture, we know, will affect brutes; not as they have reason, but as they have passions: So far as these are used in a discourse, therefore, it does not regard an assembly of men more than it would a herd of quadrupeds: That is, their whole effort is spent not on the rational faculties, which are out of the question, but on the animal ones, which alone they endeavor to possess and actuate, independent of reason.—Nay more, our reason and judgment itself is intended to be biased and inclined by them; action being only used as an indirect way of coming at the reason, where a direct and immediate one was wanting, i.e., where the judgment cannot be taken by the proper means, argument; it is to be taken indirectly, by circumvention and stratagem.
The natural order of things, then, is here inverted: Our reason, which should go before and direct our passions, is dragged after them: Instead of coolly considering and taking cognizance of things; and according to what we perceive therein, raising ourselves to the passions of grief, indignation, or the like: We are attacked the other way; the impression is to be carried backwards, by virtue of the natural connection there is between the reason and the passions: And thus the helm, the principle of our actions, is taken out of our own hand and given to another.
The case is much the same here, as in sensation and imagination: The natural and regular way of arriving at the knowledge of objects is by sense; an impression begun there is propagated forward to the imagination, where an image is produced, similar to that which first struck on the organ.—But the process is sometimes inverted; in hypochondriac, lunatic, and other delirious cases; the image is first excited in the imagination; and the impression thereof communicated back to the organs of sense: By which means, objects are seen which have no existence. See IMAGINATION.
To say no more, action does not tend to give the mind any information about the case in hand; it is not pretended to convey any arguments or ideas which the simple use of language would not convey. But is it not that we should form our judgments upon? And can any think help us to make a just judgment, besides what somehow enlarges our understanding? When Cicero made Caesar tremble, turn pale, and let fall his papers, he did not apprise him of any new guilt which Caesar did not know of: The effect had no dependence on Caesar's understanding; nor was it anything more than might have been produced by the unmeaning sounds of a musical instrument duly applied. Logs of timber and stone have often trembled on the like occasions. See Passion, Music, etc.
Action, in poetry, is an event, either real or imaginary, which makes the subject of an epic or dramatic poem. See Epic, Tragedy, etc.
The action of a poem coincides with the fable thereof; it being the usual practice, not to take any real translation of history, but to feign or invent one; or at least, to alter the historical fact, so as to render it in good measure fictitious. See Fable.
Bossu has two chapters, Of Real Action, the recitals whereof are fables: and of Feigned Action, the recitals whereof are historical.
The critics lay down four qualifications as necessary to the epic and the tragic action: The first, Unity; the second, Integrity; the third, Importance; and the fourth, Duration.
For the Unity of the epic action, see Unity, etc.
This Unity is not only to exist in the first draft, or model of the fable, but in the whole episodic action. See Episode.
In order to the Integrity of the action, it is necessary, according to Aristotle, that it have a beginning, middle, and end. —If the three parts of a whole seem too generally denoted by the words, beginning, middle, and end; Bossu interprets them more expressly, thus; The causes and designs of a man's doing an action are the beginning; the effects of these causes, and the difficulties met withal in the execution of those designs, are the middle of it; and the unraveling and extricating of those difficulties, the end of the action.
The poet, says Bossu, should so begin his action, that, on one hand, nothing should be farther wanting for the understanding of what he afterward delivers; and, on the other, that what thus begins requires after it a necessary consequence.
The end is to be conducted after the like manner, only with the two conditions transposed; so that nothing be expected after it, and that what ends the poem be a necessary consequence of something that went before it. Lastly, the beginning is to be joined to the end by a middle; which is the effect of something that went before it, and the cause of what follows.
In the causes of an action, one may observe two opposite designs; the first, and principal, is that of the hero: The second comprehends all their designs, who oppose the pretensions of the hero. These opposite causes do also produce opposite effects, viz. the endeavors of the hero to accomplish his design, and the endeavors of those who are against it—As the causes and designs are the beginning of the action; so those contrary endeavors are the middle of it, and form a difficulty, plot, or intrigue, which makes the greatest part of the poem. See Intrigue, Knot, Plot, etc.
The solution or clearing up of this difficulty makes the unraveling. See Unraveling.
The unraveling of the plot or intrigue may happen in two ways; either with a discovery, or without. See Discovery.
The several effects which the unraveling produces, and the different states to which it reduces the persons, divide the action into so many kinds.—If it changes the fortune of the principal person, it is said to be with a peripeteia; and the action is denominated complex or mixed: If there is no peripeteia, but the unraveling is a mere passing from trouble to repose, the action is simple. See Peripeteia; see also Catastrophe.
For the duration of the epic action, Aristotle observes, it is not as limited as that of the tragic action; the latter is confined to a natural day; but the epic, according to that critic, has no fixed time—In effect, tragedy being full of passions, and consequently of violence, which cannot be supposed to last long, requires a shorter time: and the epic poem, being for the habits which proceed more slowly, requires a longer time either for them to take hold or to be rooted up: And hence the difference between the epic and dramatic action, in point of duration.
As to the importance of the epic action, there are two ways of proving it: The first, by the dignity and importance of the persons. This way alone Homer makes use of; there being, otherwise, nothing great and important in his models, but what might have happened to ordinary persons. The second, by the importance of the action itself; such as the establishment or downfall of a religion, or a state; which is Virgil's action, and in which he has much advantage over Homer.
Bossu mentions a third way of making the action important, i.e., by giving a higher idea of the personages than what the readers conceive of all that is great among men.—This is done by comparing the men of the poem with the men of the present time. See Hero; see also Character, etc.
Action is also used in painting and sculpture for the posture of a figure, or the action it is supposed to be in, expressed by the disposition of its parts or the passion appearing in its face. See Attitude, Expression, etc.
In horsemanship, the action of the mouth denotes the agitation of the horse's tongue and mandible, or his champing on the bit, discoverable by a white ropy foam thereon. This, with the masters, passes for a sign of health, vigor, and mettle.
Action, in law, is defined as a right of demanding and pursuing in a court of judicature what is any man's due. See Right, Court, Justice, etc.
Or, action is any kind of process which a person enters for the recovery of his right. See Cause and Process.
Actions are divided, by Justinian, into two general kinds: Real, or those against the thing, and Personal, or those against the person—For whoever brings an action, either does it against one obnoxious to him, in respect either of contract or of offense: in which case arise actions against the person, which require the party to do or give something. Or, he does it against one not obnoxious, yet with whom a controversy has arisen touching some matter; as, if Caius holds a field, which Julius claims as his property, and brings his action for the same. See the Institutes, L. IV. Tit. 4, where the principal actions introduced by the Roman Law are summarily explained.
In common law, from the two classes of real and personal actions, arises a third, called a mixed action, which regards both the person and thing.
Personal action is that which one man has against another, on account of a contract for money or goods; or of an offense done by him, or some other person, for whose fact he is answerable. See Personal.
Real Action is that whereby the demandant claims title to lands or tenements, rents or commons, in fee-simple, fee-tail, or for life. See Real.
Real Actions are subdivided into possessory, which lie for lands, etc., of his own possession, or seisin; and ancestral, of the seisin or possession of his ancestor. See Ancestral.
But Real Actions, formerly so numerous and considerable, as Writs of Rights, of Entry, etc., with their appendices, as Grand Cape, Petit Cape, Receipt, View, Aid-Prayer, Voucher, Counter-plea of Voucher, Counter-plea of Warranty, and Recovery of Value, are now much out of use; by reason of the usual admixture of personal matters therewith, which change them into mixed actions.
Mixed Action is that laid indifferently for the thing detained or against the person of the detainer; being thus called because it has a mixed respect, both to the thing and to the person. See Mixed.
Others better define it as a suit given by law to recover the thing demanded and damages for the wrong done. Such is Assize of Novel Disseisin, which, if the disseisor make a feoffment to another, the disseisee shall have against the disseisor, and the feoffee, or other terre-tenant, to recover not only the land but damages also—And the like in Action of Waste, Quare Impedit, etc. See Assize, etc.
Actions are also divided into Civil and Penal.—Civil Action is that which only tends to the recovery of what, by reason of a contract, or other like cause, is a man's due.—As, if a man by action seeks to recover a sum of money formerly lent, etc. See Civil.
Penal Action aims at some penalty upon the party sued; either corporal or pecuniary. See Punishment, Money, etc.
Such is the Action of Legis Actio in the Civil Law: And with us, the next friends of a man feloniously slain or wounded shall pursue the law against the offender and bring him to condign punishment. See Appeal.
Action is also distinguished as it lies for the recovery either of the simple value of the thing challenged; or of the double, triple, quadruple, etc.
Thus, a Decies tantum lies against embracers; and against jurors that take money for their verdict, of either or both parties. See Decies tantum, Embracers, etc.
To this class also belong all actions on a statute that punishes an offense by restitution, or fine proportionable to the transgression.
Action, again, is divided into Prejudicial, also called Preparatory; and Principal.
Prejudicial Action is that which arises from some question or doubtful point in the principal one.
As, if a man sues his younger brother for land descended from his father, and it be objected, he is a bastard: This point of bastardy must be tried before the cause can proceed: Whence the action is termed Prejudicialis, quia prius judicanda.
Action, again, is either Ancestral or Personal. Ancestral Action is that which we have by some right descending from our ancestor. Personal Action, in this sense, is that which has its beginning in and from ourselves.
There is also Action Ancestral Droitural and Action Ancestral Possessory. Coke's Inst.
Action upon the Case, Actio super Casum, is a general action, given for the redress of a wrong done to any man by force, and not especially provided for by law. See Case.
This, of all others, is now most in use. Where there arises an occasion of suit that neither has a fit name nor certain form already prescribed, the clerks of the Chancery, anciently, conceived a proper form of action for the thing in question; which the civilians call Actionem in factum, and we, Action upon the Case.
Action upon the Statute, Actio super Statutum, is an action brought against a man, upon an offense against a statute whereby an action is given that did not lie before. See STATUTE.
Thus, where one commits perjury to the prejudice of another, he who is damaged shall have a writ on the statute, and a cause accordingly.
Action Popular only differs from an Action upon the Statute in that, where the statute gives the suit or action to the party grieved or otherwise to one single person certain, it is called Action upon the Statute; and where the authority is given by the statute to every one that will so sue, it is an Action Popular. See Accusation.
Action is also divided into Perpetual and Temporal. Perpetual Action is that whose force is not determined by any period of time.
Of this kind were all Civil Actions among the ancient Romans, viz. such as arose from laws, decrees of the Senate, and constitutions of the Emperors; whereas actions granted by the Praetor died within the year.
We also have Perpetual and Temporary Actions in England; all being perpetual, which are not expressly limited. So also, diverse statutes give actions, on condition they be pursued within the time prescribed. Thus, the statute of 1 Edw. VI. gives action for three years after the offenses committed, and no longer; and the statute of Henry VIII. c. 3. does the like for four years; and that of 31 Eliz. c. 5. for one year, and no more.
But, as by the Civil Law no actions were so perpetual, but that by time they might be prescribed against; so, in our law, though actions be called Perpetual, in comparison to those that are expressly limited by statute; yet is there a means to prescribe against Real Actions, after five years, by a fine levied, or a recovery suffered. See Prescription; see also Fine, Recovery, and Limitation of Assize.
Action of a Writ is when a person pleads some matter, whereby he shows that the plaintiff had no just cause to have the writ he brought, though it is possible he might have another writ or action for the same matter. Such plea is called a Plea to the Action of the Writ.
When by the plea it appears that the plaintiff has no cause of any action for the thing demanded, it is called a Plea to the Action.
Action, in affairs of commerce or Action of a Company, is a part or share in the company's stock or capital, which consists of a number of such divisions. See Company and Capital.
Thus, the capital of a company, which has three hundred actions of a thousand livres each, consists of three hundred thousand livres.
Hence, a person is said to have four or six actions in such company if he has contributed to the capital and is interested therein for four or six thousand livres.