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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Consider the following situation: a fruit bat is host to a dormant (but benign) virulent pathogen. While feeding on a piece of fruit, the bat drops the fruit into a herd of pig, and they eat it. The same pig is then slaughtered and improperly sanitized before consumption. Followed by consumption, the pathogen begins wreaking havoc on the host’s immune system, leading to the host’s death, and then further infection by others handling that dead body. Now, what occurred during this scenario? Were there just simple “instances” that occurred spontaneously?

Believe it or not, these instances are known as “events.” There isn’t a day that passes by on this planet that doesn’t consist of events. Not only do events occur, they have precedents as well as subsequent events. In his book Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Michael J. Loux gives the reader an explanation of events through the perspective of philosopher Roderick Chisholm. Chisholm defines events as states of affairs that have the ability to occur or not occur. Additionally, events also have the capability to “recur,” or be repeated, according to Chisholm (Loux 147). A decade later when the philosophy events gained more leeway, Chisholm changed his ideology to that of the mainstream: that events are “datable and locatable particulars” (148). In other words, an event that I mention occurring at a specific time and place is its own event and is unrepeatable since it is a unique particular to that specified time and location. Martin Heidegger (2012) corroborates with this point when he explains that an event is responsible in attributing to the “uniqueness of the distinctive character of the human being” and cannot be established nor represented when it pertains to an idea. Simply put, an event is a non-structured entity that holds the knowledge representative of presence. Take the example of the pathogen being transmitted to the host: with the proposition of this event - that the host is now infected with pathogen – we are now knowledgeable of the presence of that said event. If the event never occurred in the first place, we would not know of its presence, thus rendering that event nonexistent since it doesn’t characterize any being.

Loux also gives insight on two opposing, yet very popular, views on the makeup of events. Jaegwon Kim believes that an event is a structured entity with one or more non-repeatable particulars as its constituent, all of which are contingent in being. Each event contains a “constitutive property,” similar to a bare substratum, that distinguishes the event. Conversely, Donald Davidson, like Heidegger, views events as non-structured entities (or particulars) that are distinguishable based on their “extrinsic” factors, which tell us that two events could be numerically identical if they have the same causation and effect, while at the same time not being identical (Loux 148). Davidson later rejects this view and, along with W.V.O. Quine and Jaegwon Kim, view events in a spatiotemporal setting.

Kim mentions the event having particulars as its constituents and those particulars being non-repeatable, but I see an issue with this perspective. For one, we can argue that biological events are repeatable occurrences, such as the one mentioned earlier. If I were to refer to the event where a host consumes a virulent pathogen, I could mention in that event alone that the pathogen metamorphoses through many stages, reproduces via meiosis, consumes the host’s blood cells, and vice versa. This is a repeatable event in that it must asexually reproduce in order to spread. We could also argue that epidemics have repeatable events, in that people are infected in the same way, whether that is through physical contact or via breathing in an airborne pathogen. Adding on, Kim’s idea that events are structured is implausible. An event can have no structure if it is constituted of particulars, strictly because an event could have an infinite amount of sub-events, ultimately making an infinite regress. Nonetheless, the event exists in all cases, no matter if your ontology aligns with that Jaegwon Kim or Donald Davidson. Even if events are structureless entities, we can determine their existence through careful analysis of what exactly occurs in the case there is a cause and effect. The cause and the effect are events!

Now that we’ve pinpointed the existence of events through its structure, we must now analyze the location of events. As mentioned earlier, Davidson and Quine believed that events have spatiotemporal location, meaning it exists in both time and space. Claude Romano (1967) explains that temporality essentially is a placeholder for the way events occur in providing us a gateway into experience. In other words, since we are intrinsically time, we make the events happen – we bring events into existence! This is an interesting take on temporality since Romano proposes that we, as time itself, have the ability to determine whether or not an event happens. I wholly agree with this claim from a subjective and objective standpoint. One could counter that traumatic events, such as natural disasters, aren’t temporal by nature since we can’t dictate whether or not they can occur. This case is hard to consider from a timeline that has a small interval of time. However, if we were to consider natural disasters from a scientific point of view, we can find that we do indeed dictate whether natural disasters happen, but we may not be conscious of that outcome. When you drive to and from work every day in your car, you emit noxious fumes into the atmosphere that break down the ozone layer in the sky, which in turn protects us from UV light. Studies have shown that with increased UV radiation, aquatic wildlife have begun to experience “deleterious effects,” affecting the food supply for predators, including us humans. At first, it may not seem we are the main contributors to the environment’s detriments, but alas our wasteful ways will soon revealed their consequences. This is not only seen in an ecological setting, but with social matters as well.

Richard Polt (2014) recognizes an interesting socio-political example where a crowd of protestors call out an official, and this event soon spirals into revolution. What happened that inspired this crowd to go guerilla? This is formally defined as an example of a “traumatic empiricism,” which is considered a critical turning point in one’s life that makes them question their identity, respectively. This crowd may have been full of pacifists at first, but soon some arbitrary traumatic event took place, prompting them to become violent rebels. He then points out a fascinating counter to the existence of events, known as the “ultraevent,” which is an event that contains no sense of experience, but yet it is classified as an event. He points out the two main examples everyone undergoes: birth and death. We never really experience our birth and death, yet it is an existential event in our lifetimes that initiate our identity as well as ultimately terminate it. What’s especially strange is that we know the presence of these events and we can witness this event being done by other people, but we can never experience this set of events ourselves. We now find difficulty finding grounds in our ontology of events if we must assume that this event exists for ourselves the same way it exists for others. However, this doubt is relinquished if we think about this issue from the view of temporality and Heidegger’s ontology of events being a structureless entity. As previously mentioned, we as humans are intrinsically time, so we essentially dictate what events could happen. Additionally, we also have grounds in the fact that events are not represented in a concrete manner since it is unique in that defines the character of a being. Therefore, we can determine that the event of us being born was initialized by our mother and father conceiving us through sexual intercourse, followed by our embryo growing into a fetus in our mother’s womb. These events can also be subcategorized into their respective particulars (which are infinite). If this is the case, then our births are explicated as existent events since it also defines our identity – our being. Our deaths are attributed to the countless (and perhaps infinite) events that we had done throughout our lives. From an anatomical perspective, if one dies of natural causes, the events that made this terminal event possible are, say, the degradation of internal organs. In a different case, where someone died of cirrhosis, the events of drinking too much alcohol could lead to the diagnosis and ultimately death from liver damage. A person’s first and final event are existent in that they can be attributed to temporality and the fact that we see it happen to others. There’s no such thing as a “special case” of some person or other living thing not being born or dying.

An indistinguishable amount of events occurs every day around the world; in fact, one could argue that each day consists of an infinite amount of events.  I would even go as far as to say that the world wouldn’t exist was it not for events, namely due to the first alleged event being the Big Bang. We can make the case that events exist via the means of practically being concocted by us beings, such that we are intrinsically time. We also must consider the concept of events having datable and locatable particulars as its constituents. Though they could lack a structure, events will be locatable in the spatiotemporal region; that is, they will make up space in time. We have the capability of making events possible since we constitute time. Now, when referring back to our initial biological event between the virulent pathogen and the host, we can now see that each event exists in their own respect.

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