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

1. Events and things

Many kinds of entity, from any cause or effect to everything a space-time region contains, have been called ‘events’. But events usually so-called – deaths, collisions, speeches – form an apparently distinct kind, different from things like people, planets and books (see Continuants). What is the difference? Many events are changes, for example, human bodies being first alive and then dead. But this may not define events. For first, we may need events to distinguish intrinsic changes, like dying, from some relational ones, like being orphaned; the latter being mere entailments of the former, which are real events, with contiguous causes and effects (see Change). Second, events that begin or end things, like the Big Bang and other explosions, cannot be changes in them and may not, if nothing precedes or survives them, be changes in anything else.

The difference between things and events, whether changes or not, may be that things keep a full identity over time, which events lack. First, some events may be instantaneous and lack any identity over time. Second, temporally extended events are deprived of full identity over time by their temporal parts, like a speech’s spoken words, which stop them ever being wholly present at an instant; whereas people and other things have no temporal parts and are wholly present at every instant of their lives. This full identity over time will then distinguish one thing changing from successive things having different properties, thus explaining why only things can change and why changes, being events, are not things (Mellor 1981).

This difference may be denied by giving things temporal parts by definition, such as Hume-in-1739. But these are mere logical constructions from things and times, not independent events like the words in a speech. Some apparent things might indeed be mere strings of contiguous and causally related events (it has been suggested, for example, that we are strings of experiences). But not all: unchanging elementary particles involve no independent events. Moreover, since contiguity and causation can always link one event or thing to two successors, as when a cell divides, they cannot entail a thing’s identity over time (see Personal identity). So, equating us to strings of experiences implies not that things can be strings of events but that we are not things. Events and things remain distinct types of entity.

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

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