Does moral theory drive philosophy of action? Here’s what I mean. A main question of philosophy of action is what an action is. It seems to me that the answer to this question is strongly influenced by what type of moral theory one accepts.
For example, an act-utilitarian does not need anything more out of actions than for them to be events with effects. She can rank voluntary and involuntary behavior on the same scale; she can rank the behaviors of agents and non-agents on the same scale. This is likely to produce a very thin account of actions.
A deontologist needs more. For a deontological theory to work, actions have to fall into types (e.g. promises, assertions/lies, thefts, murders). These types of action generally are intentional actions. They also are not individuated by the causes or effects of the action. The deontologist may also need a distinction between acts and omissions, and/or between intended and merely foreseen actions. So a deontologist needs an action theory that can make these distinctions, and will think of actions in terms of them. Similarly, for a Kantian, actions are essentially the sort of thing that have a “maxim” behind them.
A virtue theorist also has different needs from a theory of action. Actions have to be behaviors of a creature whose life is partially constituted by its actions, a creature with an end to which the ends of its actions are related. So the virtue theorist will think of actions as limited to a certain kind of creature and as having teleological properties which the other two viewpoints can dispense with.
I am assuming in all this that the main thing we do with our concept of action is evaluate actions, either prospectively in deliberation or retrospectively in assigning responsibility, praise, and blame, and that therefore the main constraint on the concept of action is the nature of the evaluation.
All this suggests that Anscombe, in “Modern Moral Philosophy,” got something important backwards. She argued that due to the alleged decrepitude of current moral theory, we needed to do some more foundational work in philosophy of mind and action. But I think she has the foundations the wrong way around: we are not likely to do interesting philosophy of action without some direction, at least in general terms, from a moral theory.