What is the difference between “acting for” and “standing for”?

See this text for example (H. Pitkin, The Concept of Representation):

The next five chapters survey some of the main views of the concept the theorists of representation have developed explicitly or used implicitly. A dicussion of Thomas Hobbes serves both to introduce his particular view and to demonstrate the difficulties inherent in any such plausible but partial, and hence incorrect, definition. Hobbes' definition is essentially *formalistic*, conceiving of representation in terms of formal arrangements, which precede and initiate it: *authorization*, the giving of authority to act. From this view we turn to one which is diametrically opposed, yet equally formalistic, defining representation by certain formal arrangements that follow and terminate it: *accountability* the holding to account of the representative for his actions. Both these formalistic views take it for granted that representation must be done by human beings;[start hilight] but in chapters 4 and 5 we consider views of representation as a *standing for* rather than an *acting for*, a phenomenon which may be accomplished equally well by inanimate objects. [end hilight] We examine, first, *descriptive* representation, the making present of something absent by resemblance or reflection, as in a mirror or in art; and then *symbolic* representation, in which no resemblance or reflection is required and the connection to what is represented is of a different kind.

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    Both 'act' and 'stand' are highly polysemous. Show some of the senses given by dictionaries that you think might collocate or otherwise bind with ('collocate' being ill-defined) 'for'. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 1 '14 at 20:00
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    Please note that an image of text needs special attribution identifying the edition you have copied. You attribute the author here; the typograhy itself is also copyright. It's also not accessible [can't be read by screen-reader software for visually-impaired]. Please take the trouble to copy the text: you can then highlight exactly what you're asking about instead of expecting people to wade through a wall of black which is difficult to read. – Andrew Leach Oct 2 '14 at 6:23

That really clears up what you're asking.

Here, 'act for' = 'act on behalf of' and requires an agent, a sentient actor who/that chooses to act (on X's behalf).

'Stand for' means 'represent', which may equate to 'act for', but may be used as impassively as in 'x stands for the length (in metres) of the swimming pool'.


I think the primary difference is in context. When you act for something, you don't necessarily have to support it or believe in it. It could be required of you, a favor for someone, or something related to unexpected cirrcumstances. In contrast, when you stand for something, it typically relates to your conviction surrounding the thing in question. I would suggest tying "standing for" to opinions, beliefs, and morality.

Edit: Ahh. I posted prior to the addition of the clarifying picture. In that case, I'm not really sure.

  • Thanks for this answer. I have edited my question in order to give an example of distinction between act and stand in the context of representation. – Raskol_ Oct 1 '14 at 20:05

My professor explained it like this: standing for means you are representing a group you are part of. Acting for is virtual representation. It means you take no part in the group you represent. In both cases the represented group choses the person who is to represent them (you cannot represent someone if they do not agree with it).

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