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Monday, March 14, 2005

Events

"Thesis 3: The truth of which art is the process is always the truth of the sensible qua sensible. Which means: transformation of the sensible into the event of the Idea." - Badiou

We don’t have much time today. So: a few notes about events. Which, in a later post, we will tie in with Badiou.


LI has an idea about a certain dissatisfaction we feel with analytic philosophy. Here’s the problem:

In Physics, it is true that what Wenger famously called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences has been borne out by the success of physics. That success – the applicability of mathematics, it turns out, to not only describe relations in nature, but to describe it in such a way that it can be built upon and can make predictions possible. Mathematics is different, in that sense, from any other instrument we know of – it is like a human tracker, it seems to have an intuition for its prey.

It was natural, back in the days when logicians were keen about encoding the axioms of mathematics into logic, that it might be the case that language, whether formal or natural, would, with the proper conceptual tools, do the same thing for philosophers. Thus the infinite worrying of language one finds in analytic philosophy papers – the respect for the (usually English) vernacular rendition of reality. Whereas the applicability of mathematics to nature is, actually, the kind of thing that has proven itself, so far in physics, the parallel applicability of language to reality has proven, in our opinion, a dud. Not that there aren’t wonderful things that have been done in philosophical semantics, but on the whole, it has never given us any more reason to believe that this is the royal route to reality than, say, Hegel, or Gurdjieff.

That said, we do think that event ontology as done in the analytic tradition has made some fascinating suggestions about problems with quantifying over events, about event parts, and about how language filters events through its various luxurious mechanisms. We’d particularly recommend Jonathan Bennett’s Events and their Names for a discussion of most of the major analytic theories – Davidson’s, Quine’s, Kim’s, Vendler’s, etc. Or you can read the first chapter of Speaking of Events, Pianesi and Varzi, (pdf), here. It outlines the sundry views – starting with the view that events are universals (which, on one reading, would make recurring events interesting – if I take a walk every evening, can somebody else take my walk? Which is a nice philosopher’s question). It outlines the more common view that events are particulars. Here’s a typical passage:

“This is the account of those philosophers, such as Jaegwon Kim, who construe events as property exemplifications:

We think of an event as a concrete object (or n-tuple of objects) exemplifying a property (or n-adic relation) at a time. (1973: 8)

Exactly what is meant by the locution ‘exemplifying’ is a delicate issue. Moreover, there is some uncertainty about what is to count as a property in the relevant sense. Presumably running and stabbing count, whereas being self-identical or greater than five do not count, but there are no obvious criteria for making a thorough demarcation (see Kim 1976). At any rate, leaving these issues aside, it is clear that this account tends to multiply the number of events far beyond the thick account of Quine. John’s swimming the Hellespontus, his catching a cold, and his counting his blessings are regarded as three distinct events in
Kim’s account insofar as they involve exemplifications of distinct properties; and clearly enough, identical events must be exemplifications of the same properties (or relations) by the same objects (or n-tuples) at the same time. Likewise, when we speak of Brutus’s stabbing of Caesar, we are not, in this account, speaking of his killing of Caesar: for the first event is the exemplification (by Brutus and Caesar) of the binary relation expressed by the predicate ‘stabbing’, whereas the second event is an exemplification (by the same Brutus and Caesar) of the relation expressed by the predicate ‘killing’. Since these two relations are
distinct, so are the events. In fact, by the same pattern, Brutus’s stabbing of Caesar is to be distinguished also from his violent stabbing of Caesar, his knifing of Casear, his murderous knifing of Caesar, and so on. All of these are to be counted as different events (rather than different descriptions of the same event)
because they are exemplifications of different properties.”

While Badiou does like to yoke together the truths of mathematics and the truths of ontology, his Eventiment is not amenable to this sort of fine grained sifting. Or so it would seem. Partly this is because his work is in the tradition that requires truth to be disclosure – as we pointed out in a previous post. Although perhaps we are committing ourselves too hastily – after all, truth is a fourfold field, for Badiou, and there are different truth processes appropriate for each of those fields. But the “event of the Idea” (as opposed to its non-lieu, one supposes – that moment of procrastination in which LI seems to live) is supposed to give us the truth of Art – which would suggest that art’s truth is performative, a matter of the proper assertion of its authority.

Let’s leave it at that for the moment.

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