Front Page Titles (by Subject) DEFINITION I: By human actions are meant the voluntary actions of a man in communal life regarded under the imputation of their effects. - Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence
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DEFINITION I: By human actions are meant the voluntary actions of a man in communal life regarded under the imputation of their effects. - Samuel von Pufendorf, Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence 
Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, translated by William Abbott Oldfather, 1931. Revised by Thomas Behme. Edited and with an Introduction by Thomas Behme (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009).
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By human actions are meant the voluntary actions of a man in communal life regarded under the imputation of their effects.
1. We call voluntary actions those actions placed within the power of man, which depend upon the will, as upon a free cause, in such wise that, without its decision setting forth from the same man’s actions as elicited by previous cognition of the intellect, they would not come to pass; and, indeed, according as they are regarded not in their natural condition, but in so far as they come to pass from a decision of the will. Now a voluntary action involves two things: One is, as it were, the material element, which is the exercise regarded in itself; the other is, as it were, the formal element, which is the dependence of the exercise upon the decision of the will, and the reason, operating with a kind of freedom of choice, by which the action as decided by the will is conceived.1 The exercise itself, considered apart and in itself for the sake of distinction, is better called an act of the will, or one coming from the will, than voluntary. Now, in truth, an action of the will is further regarded either in itself and absolutely, according as it is a certain physical movement undertaken by a previous decision of the will; or reflexively, in so far as its effect is imputed to a man. Voluntary actions which include this reflexive aspect are, by a special use of the term, designated human. And since imputation regards first and foremost the inclinations of the mind and the habits of life, which are listed properly under the designation morals, it comes about that human actions themselves, by the figure of synecdoche, are called moral.
2. The essence, therefore, of a human or moral action consists in these three elements, one of which is, as it were, material, the second, fundamental, and the third formal.2 The material element is a certain physical motion of physical force, for example locomotor force, that of the sensitive appetite, of exterior and interior senses, and of the intellect as far as the exercise of apprehension (for judgement so necessarily depends upon the quality of the object that concerning it there is no room for the direction of the will),3 nay even of an act of the will itself, when the act is considered in its natural being, that is, according as it is regarded absolutely as a certain effect produced by a force as such imparted by nature. Also the deprivation of a certain physical motion which a man was able to produce either in itself or in its cause may be regarded as the material element; likewise the inclinations of natural powers toward definite objects, produced by preceding voluntary actions; as also a man’s acts or habitual performances consisting in certain usages introduced by the human will, by which, due to the mere opinion of men, a certain moral effect is indicated. Not only can actions of my own which are of such a kind be the material element of my moral actions, but also actions of this sort on the part of other men, and instances of depriving them of actions, when these can be directed by my will; nay even the actions of brutes, of plants, and of inanimate objects, which are capable of a direction that proceeds from my will. So, in the divine law itself, injury done by a goring ox is imputed to the master, if he knows the ox to be of that kind.4 So the vinedresser is himself held responsible, when, as a result of his neglect, the vine pours forth all its fecundity into its branches. He also who set the fire pays for its voracity.5 Although about all these matters, in order that the actions of others can be reckoned as our own, there must have been some neglect on our part of an action due, or else an action must have intervened on our part, without which the other could not have taken place. Indeed, the material element of moral actions may even be instances of the admission or reception of another’s actions, which, to be sure, considered in their natural being, are passive states, and yet, when one adds the element of imputation, which arises from the fact that they might have been prohibited or warded off, they are reckoned as actions.
3. The fundamental element of a moral action is reason acting with freedom of choice, by which reason the physical motion just described is perceived as produced by a decision of the will. Now this reason, acting with freedom of choice, presupposes or includes that faculty of man in which is placed the capacity to produce or to omit those motions.
4. The formal element of a moral action consists in the imputation, or rather in the imputativity, by which the effect of a voluntary action can be imputed to the agent, whether the agent himself has produced the effect in a physical way, or has had it produced by the instrumentality of others. Now it is from the formal aspect of an action that the agent himself, indeed, shares in the designation of morality and is called the moral cause. From this it is readily understood that, speaking properly and strictly, the formal reason of the moral cause consists in the imputation, but this terminally considered, and that this formal reason is nothing else than the voluntary agent to whom the effect is, or ought to be, imputed, because either in whole or in part he has produced (expressed more effectively in German by verursachet) the effect, and turned out to be its author. And, therefore, if any good comes it must be entered to his credit, if any evil, it must be charged against him; so the very agent himself is bound, as it were, to stand in the place of the effect and to answer for it.
5. As for the rest, the formal element of a human action, that is, the imputativity, has the nature of a positive form, from which, as from a root, spring those affections, properties, and consequences of which we must treat here. Hence a moral action can be called a positive entity (in the class of things moral, not of things in nature), whether the material element be a physical motion or the deprivation of such a motion. For to the essence of such positive entities in the class of things moral it is sufficient if they establish something from which true affections in the same class result, since just as there are no affections of a non-entity, so that which has definite and positive affections can by no means be called a non-entity absolutely speaking.6 What these affections are will be shown below.
6. Now moral actions are here distinguished primarily as follows: (1) By reason of the cause, into immediate actions, namely, those which some one has personally produced of himself, and mediate actions, those which he has caused to be produced by another. (2) By reason of the act itself, they are divided into pure actions and mixed actions.7 Pure actions are those which are completed by a certain movement of some force directed to an object with a definite purpose. Such are the recognition of God and worship of Him, the exhibition of honour and of veneration, reverence, affection, aversion, consolation, praise, vituperation, &c., whose effect consists in this, that the object is affected from the action in a certain fashion, or is felt to have been affected in the direction of being favourably or unfavourably disposed to one. Other actions, however, are, as it were, mixed, for they bring a certain real advantage or disadvantage to some one’s person or property. Instances of these mixed actions are a gift, a loan, a theft, murder, &c., whose effect consists primarily in a certain deed that in a real way either helps or injures another’s person or property. (3) By reason of the object, moral actions are divided variously, on which see below.
7. In contradistinction from moral actions are natural actions, or actions of any forces whatsoever, in so far as they are considered in their natural being, as movements produced by powers which are in one by nature, but without respect to the decision of the will and to imputativity, and therefore are deprived of the foundation as well as of the formal element of morality. And such are the actions not merely of the necessary powers which, granted all things requisite for action, cannot help but act, but also those of the free powers which, granted all things requisite for action, can act or not, if, indeed, they be considered in the manner just mentioned. Among these, nevertheless, there is this difference, namely, that the former in themselves and directly are not capable of the foundation of morality, but the latter are.
8. Moral actions, moreover, can be considered either in genus or in species. In genus according to (1) the object, (2) the principles, (3) the affections, (4) the effects.
[1. ] Pufendorf considers the moral action (just as the moral person and the moral thing) like a substance (within the sphere of moral entities), which is understood as a whole of matter and form in accordance with the Aristotelian tradition (see Aristotle, Metaphysics VII.3). “Although moral entities do not exist of themselves, and consequently should in general not be classified as substances, but rather as modes, we nevertheless find many of them considered like substances, because other moral things appear to be directly founded in them, in the same way that quantity and qualities inhere in physical substances” (JNG, 1, 1, §6). The “formal element . . . from which, as from a root, spring those affections, properties and consequences” is the imputativity of the action, presupposing “reason acting with freedom of choice” as its (natural) foundation (see §§4–5, p. 22).
[2. ] Instead of this threefold distinction, the major work JNG makes only a twofold distinction of the material element and the formal element of the action (1, 5, §2), while “reason acting with freedom of choice” is attributed to its material, psychic element. See Eris, “Specimen controversiarum . . .,” chap. v “De origine moralitatis et indifferentia motus physici in actione humana,” §2, p. 165; Hans Welzel, Die Naturrechtslehre Samuel Pufendorfs: Ein Beitrag zur Ideengeschichte des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1958), 22.
[3. ] The parallel section in JNG (1, 5, §2) adds: “although in forming that judgement there are some opportunities for our own choice and activity.” Pufendorf’s anthropology makes a distinction between a natural and a free side of each of the central human faculties understanding and will. While the representative faculty of the understanding by no means is subject to man’s free choice, the faculty of judgment depends to some extent on the will (see bk. II, Observ. I, §§1 and 3, and JNG, 1, 3).
[4. ] Exodus 21:29ff.
[5. ] Ibid. 22:5.
[6. ] See bk. I, Def. 1, note 1.
[7. ] According to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, II, 1105a32ff), the virtuous action takes place for its own sake (for an immanent end obtained by the action itself), while the mixed action takes place for an end different from itself (for example, fear of a greater evil).