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McTaggart's Argument

Edited by Stephan Torre (University of Aberdeen, Northern Institute of Philosophy)
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Summary In a much discussed paper, John McTaggart argues that time is unreal. He argues for this surprising conclusion by claiming that two candidate ways of construing time are inadequate. McTaggart notes that we can order times according to whether they are past, present or future and by how far into the past or future they are. He calls this ordering of times the 'A-series'. He also notes that we can order times according to whether they are earlier than or later than one another. He calls this ordering of times the 'B-series'. He goes on to argue that time cannot be construed in terms of the A-series nor in terms of the B-series. From this he concludes that time must be unreal. His reason for thinking that the A-series is inadequate is because he thinks such an ordering leads to contradiction. He claims that the properties of being past, being present and being future are incompatible, yet each time would have to possess all three, which he deemed impossible. McTaggart claims that the B-series is also inadequate because it cannot account for change. If one time is earlier than another, then this fact holds eternally. However this eternal fact cannot accommodate the fact that what times are past, present and future changes from one moment to the next. McTaggart's argument for the unreality of time is, no doubt, highly controversial and has spurred a great deal of discussion in both trying to clarify it, as well as evaluate it.
Key works McTaggart's influential argument is presented in his McTaggart 1908. An important discussion of it can be found in chapter 7 of Mellor 1998. Several key works relating to McTaggart's argument can be found in Part 2 of Oaklander & Smith 1994.
Introductions Good overviews of McTaggart's argument are found in section 4 of Markosian 2010 and section 3 of McDaniel 2010.
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  1. Archie J. Bahm (1987). Unreality and Time. International Studies in Philosophy 19 (3):68-70.
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  2. Thomas Baldwin (1999). Back to the Present. Philosophy 74 (2):177-197.
    McTaggart's famous argument that the A-series is contradictory is vitiated by an unsatisfactory conceptualization of tenses which can be corrected by making explicit their relational structure. This leads into a much sharper formulation of his apparent contradiction, and defusing this apparent contradiction requires a careful distinction between tensed and tenseless descriptions of thoughts. As a result the ‘unreality’ of tense turns out to rest on the fact that tensed descriptions of temporal facts do not capture their identity. This ‘metaphysical’ priority (...)
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  3. John Bigelow (1991). Worlds Enough for Time. Noûs 25 (1):1-19.
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  4. S. Bokil (1976). Reality and Unreality of Time. Indian Philosophical Quarterly 3 (3):367-376.
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  5. C. D. Broad (1921). J. M. E. McTaggart, The Nature of Existence, Vol. I. [REVIEW] Hibbert Journal 20:172.
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  6. C. D. Broad (1921). McTAGGART, J. McT. E. - The Nature of Existence. [REVIEW] Mind 30:317.
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  7. Robert S. Brumbaugh (1984). Unreality and Time. State University of New York Press.
    This book recognizes and questions a key assumption about time which is shared by common sense and philosophy—the assumption that time, like a single substance or a homogeneous quality, is subject to the law of contradiction. This leads to the logical conclusion that among different and mutually exclusive accounts of time, whether in science, practical action, or fine art, only one can be the “right” one. Four such accounts are shown here to be internally consistent though mutually incompatible, suggesting that (...)
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  8. David J. Buller & Thomas R. Foster (1992). The New Paradox of Temporal Transience. Philosophical Quarterly 42 (168):357-366.
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  9. Craig Callender (2000). Shedding Light on Time. Philosophy of Science 67 (3):599.
    Throughout this century many philosophers and physicists have gone for thc ‘big ki11’ regarding tenses. They have tried to show via McTaggart’s paradox and special relativity that tcnscs arc logically and physically impossible, rcspcctivcly. Ncithcr attempt succccds, though as I argue, both lcavc their mark. In thc iirst two sections of thc paper I introduce some conceptual difficulties for the tensed theory of time. The next section then discusses the standing 0f tenses in light of special relativity, cspccially rcccnt work (...)
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  10. James Cargile (1999). Proposition and Tense. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 40 (2):250-257.
    McTaggart assumed (1) that propositions cannot change in truth value and (2) if (a) there is real change, then (b) events must acquire the absolute property of being present and then lose this property. He held that {1,2b} is an inconsistent set and thus inferred 2a--that there is no real change. The B theory rejects 2 and the A theory rejects 1. I accept 1, 2, 2a, and consequently, 2b, and argue that this is consistent. There is an absolute property (...)
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  11. Ferrel Christensen (1974). Mctaggart's Paradox and the Nature of Time. Philosophical Quarterly 24 (97):289-299.
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  12. Denis Corish (2011). Earlier and Later If and Only If Past, Present and Future. Philosophy 86 (1):41-58.
    To prove the equivalence one must start with one side, and the earlier-later side seems, for starting with, logically the clearer. The equivalence is provable on reasonable definitions of ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ in terms of the earlier-later structure of time. McTaggart's attempted distinction between the past-present-future A series and the earlier-later B series, as though they were rivals for the structure of time, is based on an unexamined, and false, assumption. The equivalence shows they are not rivals; they are (...)
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  13. Denis Corish (2005). Mctaggart's Argument. Philosophy 80 (1):77-99.
    The argument of J. M. E. McTaggart in ‘The Unreality of Time’ (Mind 1908) fails logically. There is no A series as such, but there is a shifting past-present-future arrangement within and consistent with the earlier-later B series, past being always earlier, future always later, present always a position earlier or later. An exactly similar logical structure is constructible within the number series, by making each number as one goes up it in turn (it does not matter what ‘it’, or (...)
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  14. Denis Corish (1978). On a 'Very Obscure Argument' in McTaggart. Philosophical Studies (Dublin) 26:191-197.
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  15. Claudio Cormick (2014). Time and situatedness Merleau-ponty's response to Mctaggart's paradox. Ideas Y Valores 63 (156):165-189.
    Se busca establecer una relación, no satisfactoriamente explorada, entre la fenomenologia merleaupontiana del tiempo y un problema central de la "theory of time" analítica, la paradoja de McTaggart. Al clarificar, en polémica con Priest , el autêntico sentido del "subjetivismo" merleaupontiano con respecto al tiempo, se senala cómo establecer una confluencia entre el acercamiento fenomenológico y las tesis desarrolladas por Michael Dummett como respuesta a la mencionada paradoja. Con los senalamientos de Dummett y la interpretación de Bimbenet acerca del "perspectivismo" (...)
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  16. W. Lane Craig (2001). Mctaggart's Paradox and Temporal Solipsism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (1):32 – 44.
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  17. William Lane Craig (1999). Oaklander on Mctaggart and Intrinsic Change. Analysis 59 (4):319–320.
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  18. William Lane Craig (1998). Mctaggart's Paradox and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics. Analysis 58 (2):122–127.
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  19. M. J. Cresswell (1990). Modality and Mellor's Mctaggart. Studia Logica 49 (2):163 - 170.
    This paper explores a modal analogue of Hugh Mellor''s version of McTaggart''s argument against the reality of tense. I show that if Mellor''s argument succeeds in showing that the present moment cannot be any more real than any other moment then it also shows that the actual world cannot be any more real than any other possible world.
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  20. Gregory Currie (1992). McTaggart at the Movies. Philosophy 67 (261):343 - 355.
    I shall argue that cinematic images do not have tense: not, at least, in the sense that has been ascribed to them by film theorists. This does not abolish time in cinema, for there can be temporal relations without tense, and temporal relations between cinematic images can indicate temporal relations between events depicted. But the dispensability of tense will require us to rethink our assumptions about what is sometimes called anachrony in cinema: the reordering of story-time by narrative, of which (...)
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  21. Benjamin L. Curtis & Jon Robson (forthcoming). A Critical Introduction to the Metaphysics of Time. Bloomsbury.
  22. Daniel Deasy (2015). The Moving Spotlight Theory. Philosophical Studies 172 (8):2073-2089.
    The aim of this paper is to describe and defend the moving spotlight theory of time. I characterise the moving spotlight theory as the conjunction of two theses: permanentism, the thesis that everything exists forever, and the A-theory, the thesis that there is an absolute, objective present time. I begin in Sect. 2 by clearing up some common misconceptions about the moving spotlight theory, focusing on the discussion of the theory in Sider. In doing so, I also fill-out the barebones (...)
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  23. Natalja Deng (2013). Fine's Mctaggart, Temporal Passage, and the a Versus B‐Debate. Ratio 26 (1):19-34.
    I offer an interpretation and a partial defense of Kit Fine's ‘Argument from Passage’, which is situated within his reconstruction of McTaggart's paradox. Fine argues that existing A-theoretic approaches to passage are no more dynamic, i.e. capture passage no better, than the B-theory. I argue that this comparative claim is correct. Our intuitive picture of passage, which inclines us towards A-theories, suggests more than coherent A-theories can deliver. In Finean terms, the picture requires not only Realism about tensed facts, but (...)
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  24. Bradley Harris Dowden (2009). The Metaphysics of Time: A Dialogue. Rowman & Littlefield.
    Introduction -- Fatalism, free will, and foreknowledge -- Mind, the metric, and conventionality -- Time travel and backward causation -- Time's origin, and relationism vs. substantivalism -- McTaggart, tensed facts, and time's flow -- Presentism, the block universe, and perduring objects -- The arrow of time -- Zeno's paradoxes and supertasks.
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  25. Michael Dummett (1960). A Defense of Mctaggart's Proof of the Unreality of Time. Philosophical Review 69 (4):497-504.
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  26. Heather Dyke (2002). Mc Taggart and the Truth About Time. In Craig Callender (ed.), Time, Reality and Experience. Cambridge University Press 137-.
    McTaggart famously argued that time is unreal. Today, almost no one agrees with his conclusion. But his argument remains the locus classicus for both the A-theory and the B-theory of time. I show how McTaggart’s argument provided the impetus for both of these opposing views of the nature of time. I also present and defend what I take to be the correct view of the nature of time.
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  27. Heather Dyke (2001). The Pervasive Paradox of Tense. Grazer Philosophische Studien 62 (1):103-124.
    The debate about the reality of tense descends from an argument of McTaggart's,whichwas designed to prove the unreality of time.The argument has two constituent theses: firstly that time is intrinsically tensed, and secondly, that the notion of tense is inherently self-contradictory. If both of these theses are true, it follows that time does not exist. The debate that has emerged from this argument centres around the truth or falsity of each of these theses. A-theorists accept the first and reject the (...)
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  28. John Earman (2002). Thoroughly Modern Mctaggart: Or, What Mctaggart Would Have Said If He Had Read the General Theory of Relativity. Philosophers' Imprint 2 (3):1-28.
    The philosophical literature on time and change is fixated on the issue of whether the B-series account of change is adequate or whether real change requires Becoming of either the property-based variety of McTaggart's A-series or the non-property-based form embodied in C. D. Broad's idea of the piling up of successive layers of existence. For present purposes it is assumed that the B-series suffices to ground real change. But then it is noted that modern science in the guise of Einstein's (...)
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  29. Kevin Falvey (2010). The View From Nowhen: The Mctaggart-Dummett Argument for the Unreality of Time. Philosophia 38 (2):297-312.
    Years ago, Michael Dummett defended McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time, arguing that it cannot be dismissed as guilty of an “indexical fallacy.” Recently, E. J. Lowe has disputed Dummett’s claims for the cogency of the argument. I offer an elaboration and defense of Dummett’s interpretation of the argument (though not of its soundness). I bring to bear some work on tense from the philosophy of language, and some recent work on the concept of the past as it occurs (...)
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  30. Vincenzo Fano (2009). A Meinongian Solution of Mctaggart’s Paradox. In Alfred Schramm (ed.), Meinongian Issues in Contemporary Italian Philosophy. De Gruyter 73-92.
    The present paper is divided in two parts . In the first part we will propose Meinong’s theory of time outlined in 1899 interpreted in such a way that the subtlety of his argumentation is emphasised. In the second, we will discuss different solutions for the celebrated McTaggart’s paradox, reaching the conclusion that a theory of time suggested by the reflections of the Austrian Philosopher seems to be the most adequate perspective for tackling this problem.
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  31. David J. Farmer (1996). Bradley and McTaggart on Time. Bradley Studies 2 (2):104-116.
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  32. David J. Farmer (1991). Being in Time: The Nature of Time in Light of McTaggart's Paradox. Mind 100 (3):388-390.
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  33. David John Farmer (1989). Time and Mctaggart's Paradox. Dissertation, University of Virginia
    I show that McTaggart's Paradox does not demonstrate that tensed time, when tensed time and the paradox are understood as they should be, is incoherent. However, important intuitions appear to underlie McTaggart's Paradox. ;I explain what I mean by tensed time. It means that not all moments of time are equally real. Tensed time is a matter of ontology; it is not primarily a matter of grammar. The variety in tensed and tenseless views is indicated, and the view is rejected (...)
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  34. Kit Fine (2005). Modality and Tense. Oxford University Press.
    This is his eagerly-awaited first book in the area.
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  35. Kit Fine (2005). Tense and Reality. In Modality and Tense. Oxford University Press 261--320.
    There is a common form of problem, to be found in many areas of philosophy, concerning the relationship between our perspective on reality and reality itself. We make statements (or form judgements) about how things are from a given standpoint or perspective. We make the statement ‘it is raining’ from the standpoint of the present time, for example, or the statement‘it is here’ from the standpoint of where we are, or the statement ‘I am glad’ from the standpoint of a (...)
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  36. Edward Freeman (2010). On McTaggart's Theory of Time. History of Philosophy Quarterly 27 (4):389-401.
    McTaggart’s theory of time is the locus classicus of the contemporary philosophy of time. However, despite its prominence, there is little agreement as to what the theory actually amounts. In this paper, it is first argued that, contrary to the received opinion, McTaggart’s A-time/B-time distinction is not a distinction between static and fluid temporal series. Rather, it is a certain distinction between two types of static temporal series. It is then shown that in his temporal transience paradox, McTaggart employs these (...)
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  37. Richard M. Gale (2010). God and Metaphysics. Prometheus Books.
    God -- On the cognitivity of mystical experiences -- The problem of evil -- God eternal and Paul helm -- A new cosmological argument, co-authored with Alexander Pruss -- A response to oppy and to Davey and Clifton -- Co-authored with Alexander Pruss -- The ecumenicalism of William James -- Time -- Is it now now? -- McTaggart's analysis of time -- The egocentric particular and token-reflexive analyses of tense -- The impossibility of backward causation -- An identity theory of (...)
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  38. Richard M. Gale (1966). McTaggart's Analysis of Time. American Philosophical Quarterly 3 (2):145 - 152.
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  39. M. Gentile (2010). Time and Change. Mc Taggart, Broad, Lowe, Smart, Prior: Problems, Difficulties, Hypotheses of Solutions. Metalogicon 1:9-39.
    This paper concerns the issue of time understood as the dimension of change. I want to discuss it in relation to the argument which had a considerable impact on modern philosophical and physical researches in the field: Mc Taggart‟s „argument of unreality of time‟. I will begin by briefly outlining such argument and then I will examine some of the major objections to it. I question if this kind of description does embody the reality of time. I will conclude by (...)
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  40. Nathaniel Goldberg (2004). McTaggart on Time. Logic and Logical Philosophy 13:71-76.
    Contemporary discussions on the nature of time begin with McTaggart, who introduces the distinction between what he takes to be the only two possible realist theories of time: the A-theory, maintaining that past, present, and future are absolute; and the B-theory, maintaining that they are relative. McTaggart argues against both theories to conclude that time is not real. In this paper, I reconstruct his argument against the A-theory. Then, I show that this argument is flawed. Finally, I draw a lesson (...)
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  41. D. W. Gotshalk (1930). Mctaggart on Time. Mind 39 (153):26-42.
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  42. Tobias Hansson Wahlberg (2013). Dissolving McTaggart's Paradox. In C. Svennerlind, J. Almäng & R. Ingthorsson (eds.), Johanssonian Investigations. Ontos Verlag
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  43. V. Havlik (1994). On the Analysis of Mctaggart Paradox (Paradox of Mctaggart Paradox). Filosoficky Casopis 42 (1):76-88.
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  44. Vladimír Havlík (1995). Ontologická Alternativa McTaggartova Paradoxu. Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 2 (4):327-341.
    The article deals with McTaggartś paradox of time from an ontological point of view. There are two basic approaches which are usually taken in solving McTaggartś paradox. The most commonly adopted in analytic philosophy is the rejection of the flow of time as a myth. This position leads to the extreme statement that the world is intrinsically tenseless. The other is the view that temporal passage is a genuine feature of the world and is consistent with an ontology of concrete (...)
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  45. Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson (2001). Temporal Parity and the Problem of Change. SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy 2 (2):60-79.
    I discuss the general form of arguments that profess to prove that the view that things endure in tensed time through causally produced change (the dynamic view) must be false because it involves contradictions. I argue that these arguments implicitly presuppose what has been called the temporal parity thesis, i.e. that all moments of time are equally existent and real, and that this thesis must be understood as the denial of the dynamic view. When this implicit premise is made explicit, (...)
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  46. Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson (1998). Mctaggart and the Unreality of Time. Axiomathes 9 (3):287-306.
    McTaggart's argument for the unreality of time is generally believed to be a self-contained argument independent of McTaggart's idealist ontology. I argue that this is mistaken. It is really a demonstration of a contradiction in the appearance of time, on the basis of certain a priori ontological axioms, in particular the thesis that all times exist in parity. When understood in this way, the argument is neither obscure or unfounded, but arguably does not address those versions of the A-theory that (...)
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  47. John King-Farlow (1974). The Positive McTaggart on Time. Philosophy 49 (188):169 - 178.
    It is increasingly fashionable to attack McTaggart's arguments about the Unreality of Time with a minimum of attention to what he was trying to establish. Those who have only read his one still famous paper ‘The Unreality of Time’ [III] are too likely to assume from professional philosophers' current counter-arguments that the man was a sceptic with only a single idea in his head, rather than an ingenious, constructive metaphysician. Since so much formal and informal analysis has been directed against (...)
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  48. John Knox Jr (1981). McTaggart's Theory of the Self. Idealistic Studies 11 (2):151-166.
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  49. William Lane Craig (1999). Oaklander on McTaggart and Intrinsic Change. Analysis 59 (264):319-320.
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  50. Robin Le Poidevin (1993). Lowe on Mctaggart. Mind 102 (405):163-170.
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