Linguistics & Philosophy Colloquium

Sponsored by the UCI departments
of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Logic & Philosophy of Science

Achille Varzi
Columbia University

“On the Sense and Reference of Event Names”

We speak of actions and other events with the same easiness with which we speak of people and other objects. But while the semantics of our object talk seems clear enough (we know what object we are talking about when we speak of Lou's hat), the semantics of our event talk is a complex affair. What is it that we are talking about when we speak of Brutus' stabbing of Caesar? Exactly where and when did it take place? Was it the same event as the killing of Caesar? Was it the same as the assassination of Caesar? Was it the same as the violent assassination of Caesar? Some take questions such as these to be metaphysical questions. They think they are questions whose answers call for adequate identity criteria, and that we are not allowed to take our event talk seriously unless we can provide such criteria. I think those are, first and foremost, semantic questions-- questions about the way we talk and about what we mean. And I share with a few the worry that this conflict between metaphysic and semantic concerns is indicative of a deep indeterminacy in our event concept. We do talk about events; but what events a statement is about is not something that can easily be inferred from the event names occurring in the statement; it depends heavily (more heavily than with ordinary material objects) on local context and unprincipled intuitions. In this talk I plan to explain this view and to illustrate its import especially in connection with two concrete examples: the phenomenon of vagueness and the dispute over identity statements.

Friday, November 3, 2000
SST 777, 3 pm

Refreshments will be served