How does the concept of action fit within a scientifically serious world-view? This paper argues that the category of action, with its goal-seeking and orientation to the future, is not a human peculiarity, a perplexing incongruity in an otherwise mechanistic world. Rather, actions pervade the whole biological domain. The concept of action is needed to explicate the continued existence of every biological organism.Systems as primitive as bacteria are autonomous far-from-equilibrium systems, which maintain themselves in existence by their interactions with their environments. That requires recognizing them as performing simple actions. Three criteria are proposed which justify identifying certain behaviour as minimal actions: goal-seeking; possibly being in error; and behaving as a functional whole. Adding further criteria yields richer concepts of action, namely, self-directed and reflective action. Only the last is distinctively human. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
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