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Life and Action

Life and Action

Elementary Structures of Practice and Practical Thought

Michael Thompson

ISBN 9780674063983

Publication date: 03/05/2012

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Any sound practical philosophy must be clear on practical concepts—concepts, in particular, of life, action, and practice. This clarity is Michael Thompson’s aim in his ambitious work. In Thompson’s view, failure to comprehend the structures of thought and judgment expressed in these concepts has disfigured modern moral philosophy, rendering it incapable of addressing the larger questions that should be its focus.

In three investigations, Thompson considers life, action, and practice successively, attempting to exhibit these interrelated concepts as pure categories of thought, and to show how a proper exposition of them must be Aristotelian in character. He contends that the pure character of these categories, and the Aristotelian forms of reflection necessary to grasp them, are systematically obscured by modern theoretical philosophy, which thus blocks the way to the renewal of practical philosophy. His work recovers the possibility, within the tradition of analytic philosophy, of hazarding powerful generalities, and of focusing on the larger issues—like “life”—that have the power to revive philosophy.

As an attempt to relocate crucial concepts from moral philosophy and the theory of action into what might be called the metaphysics of life, this original work promises to reconfigure a whole sector of philosophy. It is a work that any student of contemporary philosophy must grapple with.


  • Thompson's work does not build on the foundation of some given literature. It lays the foundation. Of course, his thought rests on the history of the subject, but not in the way that it takes something for granted, treats something as established elsewhere. This explains the stunning originality of Thompson's work. Each of his essays reveals possibilities for thought unknown to the contemporary literature. It is not audacious to predict that Thompson will be the leading figure in moral philosophy over the next twenty years, and this far beyond the confines of Anglophone philosophy.

    —Sebastian Rödl, Universität Basel


  • Michael Thompson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press