Action, Emotion, and Will

Action, Emotion, and Will

Action, Emotion, and Will

Action, Emotion, and Will


Action, Emotion and Will was first published in 1963, when it was one of the first books to provoke serious interest in the emotions and philosophy of human action. Almost forty years on, Anthony Kenny's account of action and emotion is still essential reading for anyone interested in these topics.The first part of the book takes an historical look at the emotions in the work of Descartes, Locke and particularly Hume. In the second part, Kenny moves on to discuss some of the experimental work on the emotions by 20th Century psychologists like William James. Separate chapters cover feelings, motives, desire and pleasure. This edition features a brand new preface by the author.


The reissue of Action, Emotion and Will forty years after its first publication provides an opportunity for me to reflect on its origin, its content, and its influence.

The book was conceived when I was a graduate student in philosophy at Oxford during the years 1957–9. I was then a Roman Catholic priest of the archdiocese of Liverpool, and I was sent to Oxford by my Archbishop to complete a doctoral thesis on the philosophical analysis of religious language that I had commenced at the Gregorian University in Rome. After I had started work in Oxford the archdiocesan authorities discovered that if I became a full student of the University, rather than a visitor from an overseas institution, I would qualify for a grant from my local authority, and thus relieve the church of considerable expense. Accordingly, I was encouraged to enrol to write a dissertation for a second doctorate, and I began to look about for a suitable topic.

I was very fortunate to be befriended in Oxford by Elizabeth Anscombe, an associate of the recently dead Wittgenstein, and herself one of the most distinguished philosophers of the age. On her advice, I decided to write my thesis on the intentionality of psychological verbs. The topic was approved by the philosophy sub-faculty, and I was assigned Antony Quinton as my supervisor—the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Anscombe gave me access to appropriate unpublished papers of Wittgenstein, and Quinton was a wonderful guide to contemporary philosophical literature. I learnt much about philosophy during my two years as a resident graduate student, and I successfully completed my thesis on religious language for the Gregorian. But I left Oxford with very little of my intentionality dissertation written.

For the next two years I was a curate in a depressed area of Liverpool, and the dissertation thesis had to be written in the periods left free by parish work. This was not always easy, though to be honest I had to admit that as a part-time philosopher in Liverpool I was not very much more distracted from . . .

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