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Event Location and Vagueness

Varzi, Achille C.

That our event talk is vague is no news. Unlike facts, events are particulars located in space and time. But in ordinary circumstances it is utterly difficult, if not impossible, to specify the exact extent of the relevant spatiotemporal location. We say that Brutus stabbed Caesar and we intend to refer to an event — Brutus’s stabbing of Caesar—that took place at a certain time in a certain place. It took place in the Senate (not in the Coliseum) during the Ides of March (not April) in Rome, 44 BC. But where exactly in the Senate did this event take place? Did it spread only through Brutus and Caesar? Did it spread through their entire bodies? (Was Brutus’s left ear involved at all in this event?) Did it also spread through some space between them? Through what portion of space? And when exactly on March 15 did the killing begin? When exactly did it end? We don’t think the difficulty here is purely epistemic, as if it were just a matter of ignoring the facts. It’s not that there is this event, Brutus’s killing of Caesar, that has perfectly precise and yet unknown spatiotemporal boundaries, boundaries that historians have not been able (and will never be able) to locate.
It’s not that such events as the industrial revolution, the discovery of penicillin, or World War II have precise and unknown spatiotemporal boundaries whose location eschews us. The indeterminacy here is not epistemic, or so we claim. Does it follow that the indeterminacy is ontological—that events such as these have fuzzy spatial or temporal boundaries? We don’t think so, either.



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November 24, 2014