In This Article The Philosophy of Events

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Collected Essays
  • Identity Conditions for Events
  • Events, Causation, and Omissions
  • The Semantics of Events
  • Mental Events
  • Events and Essences
  • Events, Time, and Space

Philosophy The Philosophy of Events
by
Dana Goswick, Paul R. Daniels
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0335

Introduction

The mid-20th century saw an increasing interest in the nature of events. Within the span of ten years (1966–1976), a flurry of articles debating the nature of events appeared, written by Jaegwon Kim, Donald Davidson, and Roderick Chisolm. The questions they grappled with—Can events recur? Are events linguistic entities or nonlinguistic entities? How fine-grained are events?—set the stage for the philosophical work on events that continues in the early 21st century. One central question that continues to receive much attention is the question of identity conditions for events (i.e., when are e and e* the same event. Some endorse a very coarse-grained conception of event individuation; namely, e and e* are the same event so long as they occur in the same space-time region. Others endorse a more fine-grained conception of event individuation; that is to say, e and e* are the same event only if they involve the same subject having the same property at the same time. Another important question about events, especially in regard to the causation literature, is whether omissions are events. Intuitively, they seem not to be—an event is the happening of something, whereas an omission is the happening of nothing—but many accounts of causation require or, at least, work more smoothly if omissions count as events. Given the influence of the linguistic turn in philosophy, as well as the fact that several highly influential articles by Davidson focus primarily on the semantics of events, event semantics has received a great deal of attention in the literature. More so than with many putative ontological categories, there is some uncertainty about the ontological standing of events. Many try to reduce them, but there’s no consensus on what they reduce to, nor is there consensus regarding how exactly events are related to other nearby putative ontological categories such as facts, processes, states of affairs, and objects. Additional questions surrounding events include the status of mental events (and, in particular, whether they reduce to physical events), whether properties of an event are essential to it, and how events are related to space-time.

General Overviews

While there are no introductory texts dedicated to the philosophical nature of events, there are nevertheless a number of good introductions, general overviews, and literature surveys available. Casati and Varzi 2014 stands out in this regard, particularly for professional philosophers, and Susan Schneider’s Casati and Varzi 2014 is valuable for students and those coming from a background other than philosophy. Casati and Varzi 2008 and Pianesi and Varzi 2000 nicely highlight the ways in which concerns about events intersect with concerns from other disciplines (including, for instance, semantics). Simons 2003 provides a fine historical overview.

  • Casati, Roberto, and Achille C. Varzi. “Event Concepts.” In Understanding Events: From Perception to Action. Edited by Thomas F. Shipley and Jeffrey M. Zacks, 31–53. Oxford Series in Visual Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195188370.003.0002E-mail Citation »

    Casati and Varzi note that the notion of event plays a central role across many disciplines, including but not limited to philosophy, psychology, history, linguistics, and physics. They examine whether there’s a core notion of event that all these disciplines share, as well as the question of whether there’s a commonsense notion of event.

  • Casati, Roberto, and Achille C. Varzi. “Events.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    Casati and Varzi provide an introduction to the philosophy of events. They examine such questions as (1) the ontology of events, (2) how events differ from other nearby categories, such as states of affairs and facts, (3) identity conditions for events, and (4) the semantics of events.

  • Pianesi, Fabio, and Achille C. Varzi. “Events and Event Talk: An Introduction.” Paper presented at an international working conference held in August 1995 in Trento, Italy. In Speaking of Events. Edited by James Higginbotham, Fabio Pianesi, and Achille C. Varzi, 3–47. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    A critical overview of issues commonly discussed in the literature on event talk. A fine entry point for newcomers especially interested in semantics. Broadly speaking, Pianesi and Varzi cover the nature of events, identity and indeterminacy, and the logical form of events, as well as linguistic concerns.

  • Schneider, Susan. “Events.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden.

    E-mail Citation »

    An accessible entry point to philosophical discussions of events. Aimed at nonspecialist readers.

  • Simons, Peter. “Events.” In The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. Edited by Michael J. Loux and Dean W. Zimmerman, 358–385. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    A brief history of the largely modern discussions of events, approached with an emphasis on the metaphysics of events. A fine survey of the core issues and a good starting place to newcomers.

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