Action, Belief, and Community

by Andrzej Zaporowski (Author)
Monographs 188 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 Action
  • Human property
  • Action as a human property
  • Action and vocabulary
  • Action as a type of event
  • Physical and mental action
  • Interpretation of action
  • Interaction
  • Interlocutor
  • The researcher
  • The other
  • Relativism, ethnocentrism, difference
  • Change
  • Exchange
  • Interaction as exchange
  • Mauss
  • Malinowski
  • Exchange and its avoidance
  • Exchange and tradition
  • War
  • Winch
  • Foucault on madness
  • Foucault on war
  • Brubaker
  • War as an alternative to exchange
  • Communication
  • Communication as a community of actions
  • Interaction, rule, methodicalness
  • Deviation from the rule
  • Surprise and domestication of the new
  • Homo singularis
  • 2 Belief
  • A special attitude
  • Belief, event, system of orientation
  • European context
  • The American context
  • Other names
  • Sharing attitudes
  • A set of attitudes, including beliefs
  • The holism of the mental
  • The holism of perspectives
  • Holism or hybrid?
  • A whole and a part
  • Thickening of action
  • System of attitudes, change, culture
  • Attitudes and interpretation
  • The founding of a system of attitudes
  • A change of the system of attitudes
  • Change and configuration
  • Culture
  • Intercultural reality
  • Culture, conception, attitude
  • Culture and its absence
  • From culture to multiculturalism
  • Intercultural contact and communication
  • What if not intercultural communication?
  • Culture and the individual
  • Return to Homo singularis
  • The cultural person
  • The multi-cultural person
  • Various faces of transformation
  • Loneliness and culture
  • 3 Community
  • Me/us, them
  • Solidarity
  • Loyalty
  • Community and communities
  • Change of a relationship between communities
  • The contingency of communities
  • Putnam, meaning, use
  • Meaning according to Putnam
  • Putnam’s hypothesis
  • Meaning and use
  • Community and position
  • The individual outside the community
  • The individual and communities
  • What community I have in mind
  • The role of the individual
  • Community and change
  • Individual in communities
  • Temporariness of communities
  • Balance
  • Shun’s self-cultivation
  • Limón’s mexicanos
  • Homo singularis and Homo communalis
  • Between the poles?
  • Postmodernity and tradition
  • Community and thickness
  • Return to vocabulary
  • Culture and community
  • Thickness and context
  • Thickness and the self
  • Thickness as a tool
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • A Concordance list of subject terms
  • A Concordance list of name terms


Edited by Jan Hartman



Human property

Action as a human property

Action is one of those human properties which make man an active subject co-creating the world. It is not solely reserved to people, but when attributed to them, it shows the consequences of being an animate being. We can notice as early as in Aristotle’s Categories (Aristotle 2000) that among the statements concerning specific substances, the one concerning action is exceptional since it not only assumes change and its experience, but also agency. Therefore, regardless of whether substance has the form of a beaver or an elephant, the animate being is each time differentiated from other ones owing to this particular property. At the same time, from among actions, we can differentiate some which are not automatic; in such a situation the being in question is not considered an adaptive system and is analysed in terms of their creativity. Regardless of the possibility of acknowledging the thus-understood creativity as a property of other species of animals (which I am far from either negating or disregarding, although at the moment I consider it in terms of a guess), I intend to focus on man as a being which is very special owing to this particular property, since it empowers people to model the world, including themselves. Simultaneously, the modelling does not take place via individual and separate actions – it should be understood in terms of relations. In this sense, actions create a bundle, which is perceived as a two-fold phenomenon.

Firstly, being a part of the world, man acts in a potentially ordered manner, which means that individuals recognise their actions, relating them to each other. On the one hand, people domesticate the particular sections of the world, when, say, they keep living day by day, which includes coping with the problem of suffering. On the other hand, human beings bring together different aspects of reality, as when, say, they combine the common-sense execution of their daily agenda based on sunrises and sunsets with the scientific falsification of the geocentric hypothesis. In this way, individual actions interlock, mutually supporting each other. Rather than being malleable, the world in relation to which the actions are undertaken poses a considerable challenge, ceaselessly affecting the effectiveness of human activities. The complex, bundle-like nature of actions testifies to man’s learning to systematically address challenges. Not every bundle of actions is coherent and effective; the gradation principle is at play here. We ←13 | 14→ must not forget that the acting man remains in an ineffaceable feedback with the incessantly and unpredictably changing world, which faces them with many mistakes and failures. However, the ability to cope with the mistakes and failures, which, strikingly, result in the transformation of the individual, testifies to the significance of the creative (in contrast to the imitative) nature of human actions.

Secondly, being a part of the world, no man is an island also because people are social animals. As a result, their actions make each single bundle intertwine with other bundles. There is no longer any question of solely their own acts being aimed at the transformation or maintenance of a group of people or sets of objects. What is at play is a system of interrelated actions; we are talking about the interactive nature of the said transformation (maintenance). In this sense, action becomes a property having a social nature. The latter is not constant, since we can talk about groups which are more or less coherent, compact or stable, coexisting with other groups and transforming into other groups. What is more, each individual may participate in more than one community or move between communities, or build new communities on the ruins of old ones. At the same time, taking up the challenges posed by the changing non-societal reality is mediated by community-determined actions, and I am not thinking here solely about a group answer to the existing climatic or health-related conditions. I am interested more in each man as a being who acts, inter alia, separately. However, people’s actions constitute a verifiable testimony to this ordering only if they result from a potentially creative transformation of a socially-acquired competence to struggle with the world. Only a two-dimensional perception of the bundle of actions understood in this way makes human beings the object of my further analysis.

Action and vocabulary

Writing about action in terms of a bundle, i.e. relationally, I am making a specific pre-judgement, and it is the vocabulary which I use which is responsible for this. It has a crucial role in the construction of a model or an image of the scenario as a part of which the object of research is analysed. Believing that such an analysis extends beyond the use of common language, I assume that it is my first task to opt for a definition of language with reference to which the necessary vocabulary can be built. According to Donald Davidson, “a language may be viewed as a complex abstract object, defined by giving a finite list of expressions (words), rules for constructing meaningful concatenations of expressions (sentences), and a semantic interpretation of the meaningful expressions based on the semantic features of individual words” (Davidson 2001d: 107). As results ←14 | 15→ from this definition, there are languages no one has ever spoken, speaks, or is ever going to speak; it also assumes that the language referred to as common constitutes a system of many overlapping languages as abstract objects. One of my research goals includes such a differentiation between these objects, which permits statements to be as clear as possible. Let us take the word “London” as an example. On the one hand, it refers to the surname of the American writer Jack London, and on the other, to the capital of the United Kingdom; it can also be used as a name of a boat or a dog, and can be located elsewhere. However, when uttered by my interlocutor, it is potentially placed at an intersection of the two (or many) languages it is an element of.

I do not intend to make a simple differentiation between language and vocabulary; I shall be satisfied to say that the latter is a derivative of the former, testifying to the semantic interpretation of sentences as meaningful sequences of words. For example, despite the identical rules of creation of meaningful links (sentences) in two different languages including the word “London”, their reference is different in each case1. However, the word in question is not the basic element of the vocabulary: it is the combination of one word with another as its sufficient or necessary condition in a relatively permanent or conventional way. For example, the combination of the words “London” and “capital” is relatively permanent, whereas the combination of the words “London” and “sick” does not have a conventional character. Therefore, vocabulary is a derivative of language constituting a set of standard word patterns enabling the determination of their semantic attributes. On the other hand, relative permanence or conventionality indicates yet another element: use. The language defined by Davidson is not discussed in pragmatic categories, while the vocabulary under discussion may be understood in this way. The combination “London” and “capital” can be considered conventional when a specific group of people uses it regularly. However, it did not have to be like this in the past, at least until the late Middle Ages, and it does not have to be like this in the future. Despite this, the current association based on the relevant vocabulary makes it an orientation point according to which only the uttering (or writing) of a contingent sentence “London is sick” becomes understandable.

The word “action” is an element of many vocabularies, some of which are more and some of which are less formal. One can say “Time for action”, which refers to the possibly common-sense vocabulary. On the other hand, the use of the term “reflex action” is clearer. However, the above does not mean that it does ←15 | 16→ not have any colloquial connotations in the genetic sense. It is similar in the case of the word “current”, as encountered in the expression “current flows” developed by analogy to a flowing river. We do not need to determine the hierarchy of what is colloquial and what is exact. In the case of current and reflex action, we are talking about such a narrowing of the meaning, reference and use, which will serve the possibly narrow or strictly defined purpose in possibly exceptional situations, while in the case of the common-sense urge to undertake action, we are talking of a possibly broadly understood need in possibly common situations. In both cases we are dealing with different goals. It is also worth pointing out that the objects which are a part of a certain vocabulary are captured as a part of another vocabulary. For example, reflex action may be analysed in terms of end (not an anthropomorphic one) or cause. In the former case, we are dealing with the role played by the particular reflex in the continued life of an organism, while in the latter, with the cause of an action. Simultaneously, if we used yet another vocabulary – the one referring to conditions – we would arrive at a conclusion that the researcher determines either the necessary condition (here: the end), or the sufficient condition (here: the cause). Therefore, a reference to the instance of vocabulary is not aimed at a more or less precise testimony to the state of affairs.

Action as a type of event

As a part of the relevant vocabulary, action becomes a type of event. I am referring here to a complex, and yet basic constituent of the world. Until the 18th century, it was a thing which was considered such a constituent, but Immanuel Kant’s Copernican revolution (Kant 2007) and his contrasting of the noumenon with the phenomenon undermined the obviousness of things as an object of cognition; it was no longer the thing (including the thing-in-itself), but the representation of the thing, which became the object. The simple thing was replaced with the complex thing. On the other hand, as a part of epistemological and semantic investigations, including the ones following the linguistic turn, the problem of the understanding of the classical definition of truth (Latin: Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus) appeared in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since it is to be a thought (or proposition or sentence), i.e. a complex construct, which is to be the final argument of the relationship of correspondence, then a simple construct, i.e. a thing, should not be its first argument. In this way the state of affairs or the fact2 has been referred to as a manner in which a thing is provided. For example, according to Ludwig Wittgenstein “the world is the totality of facts, ←16 | 17→ not of things” (Wittgenstein 2001: 5). In consequence, we have obtained a simplified isomorphic model, in which the domain of language as a set of observational sentences (expressing the relevant propositions) corresponds to a set of facts (states of affairs).


This is a study about man who is a part of the world of physical events, including actions. As a bunch of actions which are conditioned by beliefs and other attitudes, man co-creates communities which emerge and vanish along time. While generating and undergoing changes man is potentially a dynamic and flexible creature who at least partially manages relations with the world, including other men. This study is of an interdisciplinary nature, where the author merges philosophy and cultural anthropology with insight into sociology and communication studies. At the same time, the author takes an anti-essentialist position, where the study is a hypothetical construct. While doing this, the author assembles a particular vocabulary, where action, belief and community are addressed by communication, culture, thickness and the like concepts.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Interaction Communication Attitude Culture Balance Thickness
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 188 pp.

Biographical notes

Andrzej Zaporowski (Author)

Andrzej Zaporowski has the degrees in ethnography, philosophy, and sciences of cognition and social communication. He heads the Laboratory of History and Methodology of Sciences of Culture in the Institute of Cultural Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.


Title: Action, Belief, and Community