DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N019-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 01, 2022, from

2. Events and facts

Assuming there are things, are there also events? That may depend on whether events are facts, corresponding to truths like ‘Hume dies in 1776’, or particulars corresponding to names or descriptions like ‘Hume’s death’ (see Facts; Particulars). Changes look like facts, for example the fact that a thing is first hot and then cold; and that things start and cease to exist at certain times are also facts. Thus events of both types mentioned above may be facts, and what many authors call ‘events’ certainly are: Kim (1976), for whom events are things having properties at times, like Hume being alive in 1775, is an example. Events in this sense are real entities if and only if facts are.

This being so, ‘event’ is best reserved, as by Davidson, for particulars like Hume’s death. Their reality is independent of that of facts, but equally contentious: after all, the only particular apparently referred to in ‘Hume dies’ is Hume. Yet Davidson argues that ‘Hume dies’ also entails that an event exists which is a death of Hume. For first, this shows how ‘Hume dies slowly’ entails ‘Hume dies’, since a slow death must be a death. Second, identifying actions with particular events satisfying different descriptions dissolves puzzles about their identity: for example my bid can be a purchase even though many bids are not purchases (see Action). Similarly, if mental events are particulars, they can also be physical brain events satisfying neurophysiological descriptions (see Identity theory of mind). This explains, without invoking non-physical causes or effects, how events satisfying mental descriptions – such as ‘is a decision to bid’ – can have physical causes and effects, like hand movements (see Anomalous monism). This explanation assumes moreover that causes and effects are particulars, not facts, and this requires particular events. For only if Hume’s death exists can the effect of whatever caused Hume to die be a particular; otherwise the effect can only be the fact that Hume dies.

All these arguments have been disputed. Events remain more contentious than things, despite having identity criteria: for example, that a headache is a certain brain event if it has the same causes and effects as that event. Yet since such criteria may only relate particular events to each other, we may still need people and other things to identify some events to start with, as in ‘Hume’s death’ (see Strawson, P.F.). This may explain scepticism about events, but cannot make them less real than things, or less able to be particulars. For to be a particular is just to be of a kind we make true first-order generalizations about (see Quine, W.V.), many of which, like Newton’s ‘to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction’, are about events as well as things.

Citing this article:
Mellor, D.H.. Events and facts. Events, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N019-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles