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McTaggart is a British Idealist who is famous for his paper, “The Unreality of Time”, published in 1908, where he argues the case of atemporal reality. This is still the starting point to discuss the situation otherwise, even after a century. Nevertheless, a century has brought a lot of developments along this line of thought.
A-series and B-series Reasoning #
McTaggart describes the ways to talk about time two-fold. One is past-present-future and the other is earlier than/later than. He terms the prior as A-series and the latter as B-series. He argues that for time to exist, we need both series with A-series being more fundamental. According to him, in the B-series, if an event X happened before event Y, then it is the case forever, it cannot change. But we know that time is a representation of change and can be shown only with the A-series.
However, A-series is contradictory. If we say that an Event Q is past, present and future at different times, we have to use the A-series concept to choose a point in time to place the Event Q as such in the A-series. But to position the said event Q in a Point 1 - in time series actually asks the same question we started with(is circular) and conjures up a regress. In more simple terms:
“to justify choosing Point 1 you need to invoke the series to choose a Point 2 in order to fix Point 1, but then to justify invoking a Point 2 from which to fix Point 1, you need to invoke the series to fix a Point 3 … and so endlessly on.” – Excerpt From The History of Philosophy A. C. Grayling This material may be protected by copyright.
Now A-series is contradictory and we saw that the change can occur only with A-series. If that is the case we lose the change in the framework altogether proving that time is an illusion. But, McTaggart doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain why we seamlessly experience the presence of the flow of time in the real world and attempts to explain why that is so by introducing a C-series.
C-series Solution #
The C-series is nothing much different than B-series but implicitly assumes A-series with some additional adjustments to B-series. Those adjustments are that things that were ‘earlier than’ became or changed into being ‘later than’. The C-series perspectives on (apparent) thoughts or experiences and McTaggart explains that they are perspectives particular to individual minds.
A Critical Review #
McTaggart captures the difficulty of reasoning with the time concept in his approach. But the series A and B are just an abstraction of the real-world experience and forcefully pins down events to past, present or future. This pinning down inherently has static nature to it which is emerged when we try to reason for the flow. Maybe the A-series and B-series are necessary descriptions for explaining the time but he has failed to demonstrate the sufficiency of those series. That is a backdoor to exploit the ideas of McTaggart and develop further models of the time.
Inherent Limitation of Logic #
These lines of reasoning also make us think deeply about hitting the limits of logical reasoning. We can’t take for granted that logical reasoning can give us a way into anything and everything, I sincerely believe that there is an inherent limitation to it and we must face such limitations one time or the other. While it is always possible to circumvent and move in another direction to analyse a problem, the act of circumventing needs to be introspected upon.
Eastern Philosophy: An Example #
In Indian Philosophy, time is considered as the unmanifest but material energy of nature. Unmanifest energies have the property of imperceptibility for the embodied beings - us. But it is perceptible for the liberated entities - entities who have transcended the bondage of the matter to their transcendental(spiritual) reality. This philosophical approach is full of objective and subjective realities with both absolute and relative truths bringing forward a variegated amount of complexities to our experience. Since time is unmanifest, it might be possible that it can never perfectly be perceived using the tools of logical analysis; for according to the Indian Philosophy, logic is created after the universal creation and thus is subject to terms of the creation(which includes its non-transcendental nature).
A lot lies to explore and collaborate in this direction to explore the depths of reality.
- J. Ellis McTaggart. (1908). The Unreality of Time. Mind, 17(68), 457–474. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2248314