What is the main difference between mental states and mental events in philosophy of mind? I heard from a lecturer that mental events are those entities which occur instantly or in short period of time such as a headache but mental states are more stable (such as beliefs) and continues over time.

Can someone explain the difference in more depth?

  • what kind of depth you need? first one is short and fast action, second is long and clean intention. Feb 11 at 16:24

1 Answer 1


Well, the difference between a state and event (SEP) holds true for mental states and mental events.

Events are essentially nebulous intervals of time associated with specific occurrences, facts, and might be seen as building blocks to narratives, which are a sequence of events. States, on the other had, are descriptions of affairs, and with mental states, are descriptions of what goes "on" in people's minds. They're not mutually exclusive. A state might be instantaneous, which is generally analogous to snap shot over events, or they might refer to a general mode of being, for instance, being in a depressive state of mind in which there is some imputed commonality to a sequence of experience over time. Psychology, for instance, has the concept of flow. Handy language to describe both are disposition and occurrence (SEP), a chapter out of Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind.

I think the criterion that matters to differentiate, if one applies standard necessity and sufficiency criteria, is the concept of flow of time. That is, a mental event is a category of chronological description, where as a mental state is a property. That the mind notices or even perhaps constructs the flow of time, as Kant suggested means that there isn't a clear dividing line between events and states. Perhaps it's best to view events as discrete episodes of mental states; that is, mental events are occurrences in the disposition of the mind to participate in the flow of time. After all, the former presumes the flow of time and is dynamic conceptually, and the latter presumes some sort of functional or structural stasis. Approaches to describing mental states can vary by metaphysical presupposition. For instance, physicalists will describe phenomenological experience with neural correlates of consciousness, whereas phenomenologists will seek to strip the intellectual embellishments by bracketing.

  • @J D, Thank you so much. As you said ''That is, a mental event is a category of chronological description, where as a mental state is a property''. Can we consider events as individuals and states as types?
    – Arian
    Feb 11 at 21:32
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    I'm not sure what you mean by individuals and types. Token/type? I think the relationship might be best characterized as most mental states have a temporal aspect, that is the mind is aware of the passage of time in a host ways: verb tense for instance conceptually communicates the past/present/future, etc. In some mental states, such as a flow or boredom, the fundamental relationship the I has with the event changes, so that phenomenologically, time is relative...
    – J D
    Feb 11 at 22:41
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    But the conception of the flow of time presumes a series of facts that presumes a basic linguistic frame which its parts and as a whole is involved in logical consequence. An putative event has a beginning, and end, and the notion of a continuum of time between. A mental event is just an event that happens in a mind, such as parsing a syllogism, for instance.
    – J D
    Feb 11 at 22:43

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