The Ontology of Events

Abstract

Consider the most recent Yale-Harvard football game, an event which occurred on 11/20/21 in New Haven, lasting about three hours. This event, like many college football games before, was composed of four quarters, each of which was composed of possessions, each of which was composed of downs, each of which was composed of particular movements, tackles and decisions of the individual players. Each of these parts of the game was itself an event, occurring in a smaller region of space and time than the game itself. Each of these events involved material objects like players, helmets, jerseys, etc. Each had causes and effects, and each instantiated qualitative properties, such as being a kickoff or being a tackle. These are paradigmatic examples of events. Events are many and varied; some other examples include the melting of an ice cube, the birth of a horse, the supernova of a star, the presidential election campaign and a winter snowstorm. Each of these took place in a certain region of spacetime, had other events as parts, involved certain objects, had causes and effects, and instantiated properties. Objects and their properties are not the only furniture in the world. Events are a crucial part of our manifest and scientific pictures of the world. We go to football games, think about and participate in elections, eagerly anticipate the birth of a child, and quantify over and explain such things in our scientific theories. Yet, events have received insufficient attention from metaphysicians. Some philosophers have been skeptical of events, holding that talk of events can be paraphrased away, or that events can be reduced to objects and properties.1 When philosophers have accepted events, their motivations have usually been extrinsic—events are introduced in order to play a role in a larger philosophical system. This tendency has led philosophers to miss a number of interesting features of events. In this paper, I wish to reverse that trend by developing an ontology of events which is not an afterthought with respect to another philosophical project. In so doing, I will provide answers to substantive metaphysical questions about the relations in which events stand and their identity conditions. In the next section, I identify four basic relations in which events stand: parthood, involvement, causation and instantiation, focusing in particular on involvement. Then, I argue that events are individuated by their involvements, and criticize the identity conditions which have been offered by other philosophers, notably Quine, Davidson and Kim. I then conclude.

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Paul Forrester
Yale University (PhD)

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References found in this work

Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics.Peter Frederick Strawson - 1959 - London, England: Routledge. Edited by Wenfang Wang.
Against Parthood.Theodore Sider - 2013 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 8:237–293.
Parts: A Study in Ontology.Peter Simons - 1988 - Mind 97 (388):638-640.
A One Category Ontology.L. A. Paul - 2017 - In John A. Keller (ed.), Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes From the Philosophy of Peter van Inwagen. New York: Oxford University Press UK. pp. 32-62.

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