Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 6, pp 1383–1400 | Cite as

The vague time of a killing

  • Kenneth SilverEmail author


The problem of the time of a killing concerns exactly when and where to locate our actions. It is a problem for many of our actions beyond killing, and there are versions of the problem that can be raised no matter where your theory locates actions in particular. To answer the problem, I claim that we should be guided to the referent of ‘the killing’ by examining the definition of ‘to kill.’ Once we have the correct definition, we can see that there are several candidate events that might be the referent of ‘the killing,’ but that the definition does not determine which of them is the referent. So, I argue that it is indeterminate or vague which event is ‘the killing.’ This solution is general across many action verbs, appeals to a minimally controversial type of vagueness, avoids the unintuitive results of views that determinately locate killings, and is compatible with different views about the location of actions. In the concluding section, I show how appealing to vagueness is distinct from and superior to appealing to ambiguity.


Action Location Vagueness Time of a killing Ambiguity 



I wish to thank John Hawthorne, Gabriel Uzquiano, Kadri Vihvelin, Gary Watson, and James van Cleve for many helpful discussions and comments on this topic.


  1. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1957). Intention. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  2. Bennett, J. (1973). Shooting, killing and dying. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 2(3), 315–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davidson, D. (1969/2001). The individuation of events. In Essays on Actions and Events, 2nd Edition (pp. 163–180). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Davidson, D. (1971/2001). Agency. In Essays on Actions and Events, 2nd Edition (pp. 43–62). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Davidson, D. (1985/2001). Adverbs of action. In Essays on Actions and Events, 2nd Edition (pp. 293-304). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dunbar, G. (2001). Towards a cognitive analysis of polysemy, ambiguity, and vagueness. Cognitive Linguistics, 12(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fodor, J. (1970). Three reasons for not deriving ‘kill’ from ‘cause to die’. Linguistic Inquiry, 1(4), 429–438.Google Scholar
  8. Hall, N. (2000). Causation and the price of transitivity. Journal of Philosophy, 97, 198–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lombard, L. (1978). Actions, results, and the time of a killing. Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel, 8(2–3), 341–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Lombard, L. (1989). ‘Unless’, ‘until’, and the time of a killing. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 70(2), 135–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lombard, L. (2003). The Cambridge solution to the time of a killing. Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel, 31(1–2), 93–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Morreall, J. (1976). The nonsynonymy of kill and cause to die. Linguistic Inquiry, 7(3), 516–518.Google Scholar
  13. Mossel, B. (2001). The individuation of actions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 79(2), 258–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Pietroski, P. (1998). Actions, adjuncts, and agency. Mind, 107(425), 73–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pols, A. J. K. (2013). Choosing your poison and the time of a killing. Philosophical Studies, 165, 719–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Price, M. (1982). Causal verbs and the individuation of actions. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 20(3), 367–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ruben, D. (1999). Act individuation: the Cambridge theory. Analysis, 59(4), 276–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Thomson, J. J. (1971). The time of a killing. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(5), 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Thomson, J. J. (1987). Verbs of action. Synthese, 72(1), 103–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Weintraub, R. (2003). The time of a killing. Analysis, 63(3), 178–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. White, A. (1980). Shooting, killing and fatally wounding. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 80, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wierzbicka, A. (1975). Why ‘kill’ does not mean ‘cause to die’: the semantics of action sentences. Foundations of Language, 13(4), 491–528.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.USC School of PhilosophyMudd Hall of Philosophy (MHP)Los AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations