McTaggart's Argument

Edited by Stephan Torre (University of Aberdeen, Northern Institute of Philosophy)
About this topic
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 — 50 / 186
  1. Unreality and Time.Archie J. Bahm - 1987 - International Studies in Philosophy 19 (3):68-70.
  2. Back to the Present.Thomas Baldwin - 1999 - 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 (...)
  3. Worlds Enough for Time.John Bigelow - 1991 - Noûs 25 (1):1-19.
  4. IS NOW A MOMENT IN TIME? A Discussion of McTaggart’s Argument Against the Reality of Time From a Transcendental Idealist Standpoint.Michel Bitbol - unknown
    A concept of the ‘actual now’ is introduced. The ‘actual now’ is negatively characterized by the fact that it is absent from the time-series. This does not mean that the ‘actual now’ is outside the time-series. For saying so would wrongly suggest the existence of an ‘outside’ where the ‘actual now’ could be located. Instead, one considers that the ‘actual now’ is just the name of ‘that with respect to which’ any event can be said to be past or future, (...)
  5. On Mctaggart's Criticism of Propositions.R. M. Blake - 1928 - Mind 37 (148):439-453.
  6. Reality and Unreality of Time.S. Bokil - 1976 - Indian Philosophical Quarterly 3 (3):367-376.
  7. McTaggart, J. McT. E. , "The Nature of Existence". [REVIEW]H. W. Breuning - 1989 - Mind 98:463.
  8. McTaggart's Principle of the Dissimilarity of the Diverse.C. D. Broad - 1931 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 32:41 - 52.
  9. III.—McTaggart's Principle of the Dissimilarity of the Diverse.C. D. Broad - 1931 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 32 (1):41-52.
  10. J. M. E. McTaggart, The Nature of Existence, Vol. I. [REVIEW]C. D. Broad - 1921 - Hibbert Journal 20:172.
  11. McTAGGART, J. McT. E. - The Nature of Existence. [REVIEW]C. D. Broad - 1921 - Mind 30:317.
  12. Unreality and Time.Robert S. Brumbaugh - 1984 - 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 (...)
  13. The New Paradox of Temporal Transience.David J. Buller & Thomas R. Foster - 1992 - Philosophical Quarterly 42 (168):357-366.
    McTaggart raised a famed paradox regarding the transientist conception of time, the idea that the present moves into the future to overtake future events (or, alternatively, that future events move into the present) and past events recede further and further into the past as time goes on. Schlesinger has recently attempted an ingenious transientist solution to McTaggart's paradox. We will argue that Schlesinger's solution to McTaggart's paradox itself gives rise to a new, yet perfectly parallel, paradox which can only be (...)
  14. Every Now and Then, No-Futurism Faces No Sceptical Problems.Tim Button - 2007 - Analysis 67 (296):325–332.
    Tallant (2007) has challenged my recent defence of no-futurism (Button 2006), but he does not discuss the key to that defence: that no-futurism's primitive relation 'x is real-as-of y' is not symmetric. I therefore answer Tallant's challenge in the same way as I originally defended no-futurism. I also clarify no-futurism by rejecting a common mis-characterisation of the growing-block theorist. By supplying a semantics for no-futurists, I demonstrate that no-futurism faces no sceptical challenges. I conclude by considering the problem of how (...)
  15. There's No Time Like the Present.Tim Button - 2006 - Analysis 66 (290):130–135.
    No-futurists ('growing block theorists') hold that that the past and the present are real, but that the future is not. The present moment is therefore privileged: it is the last moment of time. Craig Bourne (2002) and David Braddon-Mitchell (2004) have argued that this position is unmotivated, since the privilege of presentness comes apart from the indexicality of 'this moment'. I respond that no-futurists should treat 'x is real-as-of y' as a nonsymmetric relation. Then different moments are real-as-of different times. (...)
  16. Shedding Light on Time.Craig Callender - 2000 - 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 (...)
  17. The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology.Ross P. Cameron - 2015 - Oxford University Press.
    Ross P. Cameron argues that the flow of time is a genuine feature of reality. He suggests that the best version of the A-Theory is a version of the Moving Spotlight view, according to which past and future beings are real, but there is nonetheless an objectively privileged present. Cameron argues that the Moving Spotlight theory should be viewed as having more in common with Presentism than with the B-Theory. Furthermore, it provides the best account of truthmakers for claims about (...)
  18. Proposition and Tense.James Cargile - 1999 - 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 (...)
  19. Mctaggart's Paradox and the Nature of Time.Ferrel Christensen - 1974 - Philosophical Quarterly 24 (97):289-299.
  20. Earlier and Later If and Only If Past, Present and Future.Denis Corish - 2011 - 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 (...)
  21. Mctaggart's Argument.Denis Corish - 2005 - 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 (...)
  22. On a 'Very Obscure Argument' in McTaggart.Denis Corish - 1978 - Philosophical Studies (Dublin) 26:191-197.
  23. On a ‘Very Obscure Argument’ in McTaggart.Denis Corish - 1978 - Philosophical Studies 26:191-197.
  24. Time and situatedness Merleau-ponty's response to Mctaggart's paradox.Claudio Cormick - 2014 - 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" (...)
  25. Mctaggart's Paradox and Temporal Solipsism.W. Lane Craig - 2001 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (1):32 – 44.
  26. Oaklander on Mctaggart and Intrinsic Change.William Lane Craig - 1999 - Analysis 59 (4):319–320.
  27. Mctaggart's Paradox and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics.William Lane Craig - 1998 - Analysis 58 (2):122–127.
  28. Modality and Mellor's Mctaggart.M. J. Cresswell - 1990 - 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.
  29. McTaggart at the Movies.Gregory Currie - 1992 - 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 (...)
  30. A Critical Introduction to the Metaphysics of Time.Benjamin L. Curtis & Jon Robson - 2016 - Bloomsbury Academic.
    What is the nature of time? Does it flow? Do the past and future exist? Drawing connections between historical and present-day questions, A Critical Introduction to the Metaphysics of Time provides an up-to-date guide to one of the most central and debated topics in contemporary metaphysics. Introducing the views and arguments of Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Newton and Leibniz, this accessible introduction covers the history of the philosophy of time from the Pre-Socratics to the beginning of the 20th Century. The (...)
  31. The Moving Spotlight Theory.Daniel Deasy - 2015 - 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 (...)
  32. Fine's Mctaggart, Temporal Passage, and the a Versus B‐Debate.Natalja Deng - 2013 - 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 (...)
  33. In Light of the Theory of Special Relativity is a Passage of Time and the Argument of the Presentist Untenable?Mekhi Dhesi - 2016 - Dissertation, University College London
    In light of the Special Theory of Relativity and the Minkowski creation of ‘spacetime’, the universe is taken to be a four-dimensional entity which postulates bodies as existing within a temporally extended reality. The Special Theory of Relativity’s implications liken the nature of the universe to a ‘block’ within which all events coexist equally in spacetime. Such a view strikes against the very essence of presentism, which holds that all that exists is the instantaneous state of objects in the present (...)
  34. McTaggart.G. Lowes Dickinson - 1932 - Journal of Philosophy 29 (23):641-642.
  35. J. Mct. E. Mctaggart.G. Lowes Dickinson - 1931 - Cambridge University Press.
  36. McT. E. McTaggart.G. Lowes J. Dickinson - 1932 - Philosophical Review 41:428.
  37. McTaggart’s Paradox and its Consequences.Strahinja Djordjevic - 2015 - Filozofija I Društvo 26 (1):226-242.
  38. Time and Temporality: A Heiddegerian Perspective on McTaggart's A-Series.Zachary Dotray - unknown
    J.M.E. McTaggart first employed the now-standard distinction between the A- an B-series in an attempt to prove the unreality of time. I argue that McTaggart's analysis of time requires that a subject exist within the A-series, and as such lends itself to a Heideggerian conception of time, viewed both through Being and Time and Heidegger's interpretation of Aristotle's theory, that necessitates a 'personal' temporality in order to make 'world-time' intelligible. I also suggest that Heidegger's temporaility, formulated as a non-successive unity (...)
  39. The Metaphysics of Time: A Dialogue.Bradley Dowden - 2009 - Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
    Seventh in the New Dialogues in Philosophy series, this book discusses the concept of time and shows in the simplest ways how time informs discussions about causality, creation, physics, natural disasters, and much more. Creating a series of conversations between two fictional characters, Bradley Dowden uses the characters to explore nine metaphysical issues involving time.
  40. A Defence of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time.Michael Dummett - 1978 - In Truth and Other Enigmas. Duckworth. pp. 351-357.
  41. A Defense of Mctaggart's Proof of the Unreality of Time.Michael Dummett - 1960 - Philosophical Review 69 (4):497-504.
  42. The Manichen Unreality.John Durkan - 1934 - New Blackfriars 15 (176):760-762.
  43. Mc Taggart and the Truth About Time.Heather Dyke - 2002 - In Craig Callender (ed.), Time, Reality and Experience. Cambridge University Press. pp. 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.
  44. The Pervasive Paradox of Tense.Heather Dyke - 2001 - 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 (...)
  45. Thoroughly Modern Mctaggart: Or, What Mctaggart Would Have Said If He Had Read the General Theory of Relativity.John Earman - 2002 - 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 (...)
  46. Notes: Death of Dr. Mctaggart.The Editor - 1925 - Mind 34 (134).
  47. The View From Nowhen: The Mctaggart-Dummett Argument for the Unreality of Time.Kevin Falvey - 2010 - 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 (...)
  48. A Meinongian Solution of Mctaggart’s Paradox.Vincenzo Fano - 2009 - In Alfred Schramm (ed.), Meinongian Issues in Contemporary Italian Philosophy. De Gruyter. pp. 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.
  49. Bradley and McTaggart on Time.David J. Farmer - 1996 - Bradley Studies 2 (2):104-116.
  50. Being in Time: The Nature of Time in Light of McTaggart's Paradox.David J. Farmer - 1991 - Mind 100 (3):388-390.
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