Philosophy Research on Time and Space – Update 3 on Time

In my first blog I explained the difference between time A-series and B-series, which Is brought up by McTaggart. Upon bringing this distinction, McTaggart argues that the A-series of time involves contradiction. According to him, tensed properties, i.e. pastness, presentness, and futureness, are mutually exclusive. No event can possibly have more than one tensed property. However, in A-series of time, any event in time would have all three tensed properties. For example, I being born had the property of futureness before I was born, have the property of presentness at the moment I was born, and have the property of pastness ever since. This seems contradictory to McTaggart.

He considers such an objection: an event does not simultaneously have all the tensed properties, and at any moment it only has one tensed property. Therefore, there is no contradiction involved in A-series. However, McTaggart considers this to be a “vicious circle” because “time must then be presupposed to account for the A-series,” but on the other hand A-series has to be assumed in order to account for time, for only A-series explains changes and it seems changes are necessary for time. “Accordingly, A-series has to be presupposed in order to account for the A-series.” (McTaggart 1908) He finds this absurd. Therefore, A-series is false.

I actually think he is wrong. Though A-series has to be presupposed in order to account for the A-series, this does not involve any contradiction, contrary to what he suggests. It is simply something that we cannot have evidence for. We can only suppose it, but once we do, we face no contradiction. Therefore, the problem becomes whether we are entitled to suppose it.


Reference: McTaggart, J. Ellis, 1908, The Unreality of Time, Mind, New Series, Vol. 17, No. 68 (Oct., 1908), pp. 457-474