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procedure, in law, the rules that govern the obtaining of legal redress. This article deals only with civil procedure in Anglo-American law (for criminal procedure, see criminal law). Except for evidence, procedure conventionally embraces all matters concerning legal actions that come to trial; thus, procedure is the means for enforcing the rights guaranteed by the substantive law.

Current Civil Procedure

A legal action, in its simplest form, is a proceeding of a plaintiff against a defendant from whom redress is sought. The plaintiff begins a lawsuit by filing a complaint, a written statement of his or her claim and the relief desired, with a court that has jurisdiction (authority to hear the case). The defendant is served a process (e.g., a summons) that notifies him or her of the suit and usually responds with an answer. Failure to respond ordinarily entitles the plaintiff to a judgment by default.

Today, liberal rules of pretrial discovery allow parties to a civil action to obtain information from other parties and their witnesses through depositions and other devices. Discovery (i.e., disclosure) is now used to ascertain the facts believed by the other side to exist, and to narrow the issues to be tried. At common law, pleadings performed this function, and they were continued beyond the complaint and answer until an issue was agreed upon.

The issue is one of law if the defendant denies that the alleged acts are a violation of substantive law entitling the plaintiff to relief; it is one of fact if the defendant denies committing any of the alleged acts. The judge rules on an issue of law, and if the judge upholds the defendant the suit is dismissed. An issue of fact is resolved by the presentation of evidence to the jury, or, in cases tried without a jury, by the judge. After the jury has delivered a verdict on the factual issue, the judge renders a judgment, which in most (but by no means all) instances upholds the verdict. At this point the case is closed (unless the losing party prosecutes an appeal), and the plaintiff, if having won, proceeds to execution of the judgment.

Evolution of Procedural Law

Current procedural law has had a long historical evolution. The early common law allowed an action to be brought only if it closely conformed to a writ. Rigorous enforcement of the rule “no writ, no right,” and the small number of available writs acted to deny relief even in meritorious cases and stimulated the growth of equity, which, in its early days, gave redress generously.

By the 19th cent., however, the technical intricacy of equity and law procedure and the tendency to make cases hinge on procedural details rather than on substantive rights made reform imperative. The way was led by the New York code of civil procedure of 1848 (largely the work of David Dudley Field), which abolished the distinction between law and equity (thereby effecting great simplification) and established the cause of action as the procedural cornerstone. A similar reform was accomplished in Great Britain by the Judicature Acts of 1875. Today the procedure of most American jurisdictions is based on codes (like that of New York) rather than on common law and equity, although the influence of these separate categories is still frequently discernible.


See J. Michael, The Elements of Legal Controversy (1948); P. Carrington, Civil Procedure (1969).

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Any one of a number of related integral quantities which serve as the basis for general formulations of the dynamics of both classical and quantum-mechanical systems. The term has been associated with four quantities: the fundamental action S, for general paths of a dynamical system; the classical action SC, for the actual path; the modified action S, for paths restricted to a particular energy; and action variables, for periodic motions.

A dynamical system can be described in terms of some number N of coordinate degrees of freedom that specify its configuration. As the vector q whose components are the degrees of freedom q1, q2, …, qN varies with time t, it traces a path q(t) in an N-dimensional space. The fundamental action S is the integral of the lagrangian of the system taken along any path q(t), actual or virtual, starting from a specified configuration q1 at a specified time t1, and ending similarly at configuration q2 and time t2. The value of this action S[q(t)] depends on the particular path q(t). The actual path qC(t) which is traversed when the system moves according to newtonian classical mechanics gives an extremum value of S, usually a minimum, relative to the other paths. This is Hamilton's least-action principle. The extremum value depends only on the end points and is called the classical action SC(q1, q2; t1, t2).

An important variant of Hamilton's principle applies when the virtual paths q(t) are restricted to motions all of the same energy E, but no longer to a specific time interval, t1 - t2. The modified action S = S - E(t1 - t2) obeys a modified least-action principle, usually called Maupertuis' principle, namely, that the classical path gives again an extremal value of S relative to all paths of that energy. Maupertuis' principle is closely related to Fermat's principle of least time in classical optics for the path of light rays of a definite frequency through a region of inhomogeneous refractive index. See Hamilton's principle, Minimal principles

In quantum mechanics, as originally formulated by E. Schrödinger, the state of particles is described by wave functions which obey the Schrödinger wave equation. States of definite energy in, say, atoms are described by stationary wave functions, which do not move in space. Nonstationary wave functions describe transitory processes such as the scattering of particles, in which the state changes. Both stationary and nonstationary state wave functions are determined, in principle, once the Schrödinger wave propagator (also called the Green function) between any two points q1 and q2 is known. In a fundamental restatement of quantum mechanics, R. Feynman showed that all paths from q1 to q2, including the virtual paths, contribute to the wave propagator. Each path contributes a complex phase-term exp i (&phgr;[q(t)]), where the phase &phgr; is proportional to the action for that path. The resulting sum over paths, appropriately defined, is the path integral (or functional integral) representation of the Schrödinger wave propagator. The path integral has become the general starting point for most formulations of quantum theories of particles and fields. The classical path qC(t) of least action now plays the role in the wave function as being the path of stationary phase. See Propagator (field theory)

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Physics. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


  1. any unit or sequence of social activity or behaviour, e.g. the action of a trade union or state, as well as the action of an individual.
  2. (in contrast with BEHAVIOUR; see also BEHAVIOURISM) any unit or sequence of individual social activity which is intentional or purposive and involves conscious deliberation rather than merely being the result of a biological reflex.
For Weber, meaningful social action consists of any course of action in which subjective meaning guides the action and where this action is oriented towards others. For a symbolic interactionist, such as BLUMER (1969), that actors act, rather than merely react, is a decisive feature of human action (see ACTION THEORY, SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM, MEAD). See also TYPES OF SOCIAL ACTION.

Sociologists are divided as to whether social reality is better explained with reference to individual purposive action (see ACTION THEORY, AGENCY, METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM, MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION) or as the outcome of SOCIAL STRUCTURE (see also STRUCTURALISM). There are also those sociologists (see SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY, ETHNOMETHODOLOGY, SCHUTZ, GARFINKEL) who argue that action theorists as well as structuralists have failed to show how actors' meanings are actually constituted.

The debate about social action in these terms is one of the most central in modern sociological theory. Various attempts have been made to reconcile action theory and structuralist perspectives (see PARSONS, STRUCTURATION THEORY, STRUCTURE AND AGENCY, GIDDENS). While no consensus exists that these attempts are entirely successful, there is an increasing recognition that sociological explanations must include reference to both action and structure (see DUALITY OF STRUCTURE).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in the theater, an important means of expression in the actor’s art. A role is realized through the actions of a performer in a play, concert, or rehearsal; these actions reveal the goal and consequently the inner world of the character being portrayed. An important element in the art of the actor is the verbal action (dramatic speech) that is directed toward the audience and the other actors.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


An integral associated with the trajectory of a system in configuration space, equal to the sum of the integrals of the generalized momenta of the system over their canonically conjugate coordinates. Also known as phase integral.
The mechanism of a gun, usually breechloading, by which it is loaded, fired, and unloaded.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Law
a. a legal proceeding brought by one party against another, seeking redress of a wrong or recovery of what is due; lawsuit
b. the right to bring such a proceeding
2. the operating mechanism, esp in a piano, gun, watch, etc.
3. (of a guitar) the distance between the strings and the fingerboard
4. (of keyboard instruments) the sensitivity of the keys to touch
5. the force applied to a body
6. Physics
a. a property of a system expressed as twice the mean kinetic energy of the system over a given time interval multiplied by the time interval
b. the product of work or energy and time, usually expressed in joule seconds
7. Philosophy behaviour which is voluntary and explicable in terms of the agent's reasons, as contrasted with that which is coerced or determined causally
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005