Philosophical Studies

, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 719-733

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Choosing your poison and the time of a killing

  • Auke J. K. PolsAffiliated withSchool of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology Email author 


The problem of the time of a killing is often cited as providing grounds for rejecting the action identification thesis favoured by Anscombe and Davidson. In this paper I make three claims. First, I claim that this problem is a threat to the action identification thesis because of two assumptions the thesis makes: since the thesis takes actions to be a kind of doings, it has to assume that agents’ doings last as long as their actions and vice versa. Second, I claim that not making both of these assumptions necessarily leads to another problem, the problem of the acting dead. This means that any theory of action has to choose its poison and face either one of these unresolved problems. Third, I claim that the solution to the problem of the time of a killing can be found by heeding linguistic arguments that ‘kill’ cannot mean ‘cause to die,’ as is commonly assumed, but instead has to have a more complex meaning. I discuss an alternative, more complex proposal and show how it allows us to keep the action identification thesis, fits colloquial usage of ‘kill’ and deals with the problem of the time of a killing.


Action theory Time of a killing Action individuation Anscombe, G.E.M. Davidson, D