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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N019-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Events are happenings, occurrences and changes objects undergo, e.g. Kate’s singing, Jane’s pouring the milk, John’s walking. Events are typically understood in contrast to objects – where events are entities which occur and objects are entities which exist. Although this traditional way of understanding the distinction becomes blurred when the (now standard) way of thinking of objects as four-dimensional continuants which are composed of instantaneous temporal parts is brought into the picture, it remains a useful starting point for understanding what events are.

Beyond the very general claim that events are occurrences, not much can be said, in general, about events, as there is great variation within the events literature. Roderick Chisholm argues that events are states of affairs which imply change. As such, they are universals which can recur. W.V.O. Quine argues that events are the material contents of regions of spacetime. He, thus, takes there to be no difference between events and objects and endorses a very coarse-grained account of events, so e.g. if Kate sings and skips simultaneously, then there’s just one event which is both a singing and a skipping. Donald Davidson takes an event to be a fundamental sui generis ontological category. Events are non-reductive concrete particulars which are individuated by their causal roles. Jaegwon Kim takes events to reduce to their component object, property and time. So, for instance, the event Kate’s singing = [object: Kate, property: singing, time: 8 a.m.–8:15 a.m. on 22 January 2015]. How fine-grained Kim’s account of events is will depend on how much detail one builds into an event’s constituent property. David Lewis takes events to be sets which have as their members the smallest region of each world at which the relevant event occurs. So, for instance, if the birth of Prince George occurs at wa, w 1, w 3, w 4 and w 6, then the event Prince George’s birth is {wab, w 1 b, w 3 b, w 4 b, w 6 b } where each ‘wib ’ picks out the smallest region of spacetime at the relevant world within which Prince George was born. Lewis’s account of events offers great flexibility – many sets will be formally eligible to be events and one can pick and choose among the formally eligible sets only the events which are relevant for one’s particular purpose, e.g., in Lewis’s case, giving an account of causation.

In addition to the metaphysics of events, important questions in the events literature include (i) How is the ontological category of event related to other nearby ontological categories, such as state, fact and object?, and (ii) What semantics best captures our talk of events? I will address each of these questions in turn.

Citing this article:
Goswick, Dana. Events, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N019-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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