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The Unreality of Time

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Get to Know Us. English Choose a language for shopping. Audible Download Audio Books. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. Shopbop Designer Fashion Brands. Given the logic of these notions, it would be contradictory to simply conjoin these judgments. On the other hand, we do not want to say that the Martian and I disagree, in the sense that at least one of us must be mistaken. We need to find a way to express the fact that there is a single reality on which we do not disagree, but which we represent differently due to our different cognitive equipment.

We do this by stepping back to form a conception of reality that includes the judgments and a characterization of the perceptual equipment of the beings that make them. We say that the apple is disposed to produce a reddish appearance in the human, and it is disposed to produce a humming auditory experience in the Martian. The absolute conception of reality is the limit that we approach as we correct, in this and similar ways, for more and more of the idiosyncrasies of the limited and partial conceptions of reality that rational beings hold.

But, again, we want to say that the astrologer and the schoolteacher do not really contradict one another. In fact, both of their judgments are true. This line of reasoning assumes, of course, that there is a single temporal reality that both the astrologer and the teacher are citizens of and are commenting upon.

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This rules out presentism, for that would entail that the astrologer does not now exist, and so her judgments present no problem. McTaggart regards it as an obviously necessary feature of temporal reality that it must constitute a B-series, wherein all the events in the field of the earlier-than relation are equally real. In this respect McTaggart is in agreement with what modern physics seems to tell us about time or space-time , and presentism is notoriously difficult to reconcile with the physical facts as we have them. Indeed, the problem McTaggart sets up seems to anticipate more recent attempts at integrating tensed or A-concepts into an overall view of temporal reality based on an underlying B-series.

For McTaggart thinks it necessary, for the B-series to be genuinely temporal, that the A-series concepts be mapped somehow onto it. In the denouement, this proves to be impossible and spells disaster for tense and by 2 , time. The reasoning is quite similar to arguments for the unreality of tense as presented by Putnam or Mellor , with the exception, of course, that these philosophers do not draw the further conclusion that time itself is unreal, because they reject 2.

The Unreality of Time (Independent Project) – Carneades

I suggested that McTaggart is searching, in the second part of his argument, for a way of integrating incompatible but not contradictory tensed judgments into a single conception of reality, where the problem is in certain respects analogous to that of integrating incompatible but not contradictory judgments about sensory qualities. This would establish, given the parameters of the discussion, that colors and sounds are not real. An analogous point holds for the tensed predicates.

The unreality of tense amounts to what we would nowadays call eliminativism about tense, to be understood analogously to the more well-known metaphysical doctrine of eliminativism about color e. If we cannot do this—that is, if we find we can only describe the underlying temporal reality consistently by dispensing with tensed talk and reverting to B-series notions, then we will have to admit that tense is unreal.

We can simply note that the judgments of the astrologer and teacher, both of which we wish to count as true, raise the question of how to relativize them, if possible, in a way that carries over to the absolute conception their tensed content. In what follows, verb forms in capital letters are to be understood as tenseless. This is what we must conclude, according to the McTaggart-Dummett argument, for there is no way of stating consistently and coherently all the tensed truths expressed by speakers or thinkers differently situated in time, in terms that still retain some measure of tensed content.


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There are two crucial steps in the reasoning—the rest is mere iteration. This description is consistent, and retains the A-notions. But in light of the previous discussion, we can see that it obviously does not give us everything we need in order to save the tensed notions by vindicating their place in the complete description of reality. The suggested way of putting things introduces a particular point of view that in effect, mediates between that of the two judgers and reconciles them: it is the point of view of the present year, This point of view is still very clearly a limited and partial take on temporal reality.

It has no special metaphysical status with regard to describing reality, once presentism has been set aside. It is only against the background of this situational fact, that we are presently situated in , that we can see the truth in this way of putting things. This characterization cannot then be taken up into the absolute conception of reality we are seeking. His limited and partial view would be every bit as valid as ours.

The absolute conception of temporal reality must be a view not tied to or intelligible only in terms of any particular position in time. To avoid contaminating our description of reality with such parochial matters of temporal position, we must banish tensed forms of the verb.

The Unreality of Time

The result—and this is the second crucial step in the reasoning—is the proposal that the death IS future in the past and it IS past in the present. Though this is the best we can do, it turns out to be insufficient to vindicate the reality of tense. For this description is still true only against the background of the time at which we are speaking. This comes out in the fact that for every event, no matter when it occurs, and any compound tense predication, there is a correct description of that event using that predicate, if we choose the right temporal vantage point for the description.

Some of these descriptions are incompatible, so we need yet another dose of relativization. In this way, we are launched on a regress which spells doom for the A-predications. This factoring of the copula is the step that Lowe inveighs against, as noted above. But whatever else might be said of it, I think we can now see that it cannot be dismissed as a misunderstanding or fallacy in reasoning about indexicals. The suggestion is motivated by the broad metaphysical assumptions we are working with. It is a good-faith attempt to find some way of incorporating the tensed content of judgments into the absolute conception of reality.

That is their downfall.

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If we eliminate the indexicality we have no way of reconciling the disparate judgments made from different points of view. On the other hand, if we retain the indexicality, we can reconcile the disparate judgments in various, equally valid ways, by choosing different points of view on temporal reality. But each such description is only partial, and we never attain a single complete description, as long as we attempt to retain the tensed content of these notions.

What is interesting about this way of looking at the argument is that it proceeds by adhering to an uncompromisingly realist line on tensed judgments until the last step. This expresses one kind of realism about tense. Unfortunately, it turns out to be incompatible with what McTaggart regards as a higher principle of metaphysics, namely 5. Does McTaggart-Dummett adhere to an unreasonably strong conception of what must hold in order for tense to be real? How exactly is the dependence of tense on a point of view to be understood, and how does this dependence manifest itself in ordinary tensed speech and thought?

I wish to turn to these questions in the remainder of this paper. Doing so will further clarify the McTaggart-Dummett argument. To tip my hand a bit, I believe that anti-realism or eliminativism about tense is an untenable doctrine, but the McTaggart-Dummett argument is the best case for it that I know. In particular, it incorporates a defensible position on what is required for tense to be real—more reasonable than some other conceptions of the reality of tense to be found in the literature, as I hope to show.

My aim in what follows is to prepare the ground for a substantive defense of the reality of tense which I hope to undertake in future work.


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As I noted above, this is close to the claim that tense is essentially indexical. But McTaggart understands this indexicality differently from Lowe. That would be, as Lowe puts it, like trying to say that my car is here over there.

The Unreality Of Time

McTaggart, in contrast, wants to allow for such projection to a distinct time in some form. It is just not the only temporal point of view relevant to the interpretation of tensed judgments. In addition, both these events are located in the past relative to the utterance of 7. The availability of the second reading is of interest because it represents the updating of the tense of an utterance or thought in an effort to preserve its content at a later time.

Frege held that it is possible, and frequently necessary, to do this.

But it allows that the point of view of the hearer need not be exactly the same as that of the original speaker or thinker. Perhaps this means that strictly speaking, the thoughts are not identical in content. Here the hearer must know what object the speaker demonstrated in order to understand his utterance.

It is intuitive that I do not fully understand what the speaker said, for the simple reason that I do not know what he referred to. In the case of a perceptual demonstrative judgment, it is fairly clear that fully understanding it requires that the hearer think a properly coordinated perceptual demonstrative thought of her own.

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The issue whether tense is real is the issue whether it is always necessary, for a thinker to grasp a tensed thought, that he think a tensed thought of his own. The issue whether tense is real is the issue whether it is always necessary, for a thinker to grasp a tensed thought, that he think a thought from some particular temporal point of view not necessarily that of the original thinker. But this would obviously be inconsistent with Moreover, 13 has highly counterintuitive consequences.

If 13 is true, then the reality of tense requires the possibility of time travel! Or, if that is impossible, we must admit that tensed judgments made from different temporal standpoints are simply incommensurable, and the unity of time as a single field of events that we can all think and talk about cannot be maintained. Not surprisingly, Moore concludes that tense cannot be real. But I have argued that his reasoning turns on an unreasonably strong construal of what is required for it to be real.

maisbaal.nl/includes/daqoc-chloroquine-phosphate-vs.php This must itself be done from a temporal perspective—though not necessarily that of the original thinker. In light of the the facts about tensed speech and thought canvassed above, this seems to be a reasonable account of how we actually do go about understanding judgments made from other temporal perspectives.

Go back to the example of the postcard. I do understand what my friend wrote, so how do I do it?