Written in 1939, the manuscript represents the first systematic revision of Parsons' theory of action following the publication of The Structure of Social Action. It first presents the distinctions among cognitive, affective, and moral dimensions of action systems that later were incorporated in The Social System. It also presents Parsons' first formulations in functional theory and thus documents the start of a chain of reflections that only in the 1960s and 1970s produced the famous four function paradigm. At the time it was written, Parsons intended to publish it, as is apparent from his correspondence. He circulated it to students in his seminars in sociological theory for a decade. The text remains an accessible introduction to Parsons' intellectual world.
Talcott Parsons was one of most influential but also controversial theorists of 20th Century sociology. He served on the faculty of Harvard University for 45 years.