MCTAGGART A-series vs. B-series

MCTAGGART A-series vs. B-series - 1 A Century of Time J R...

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1 . A Century of Time J. R. LUCAS 1. Un-Understanding Time Time has always been difficult to understand, but in the twentieth century our un-understanding has become clearer, partly as a result of the failure of sustained attempts to give non-temporal accounts of time, and partly under the stimulus of questions posed by the physical sciences. We find it difficult to talk coherently about time. We experience time as passing, but need to nail it down if we are to talk about it to different people on different occasions. Various metaphors suggest themselves- time as an ever-rolling stream, time as the passage from potentiality through actuality to unalterable necessity, time as a fleeting present reality balanced precariously between a future that is not yet real and a past that no longer is. But each metaphor has its own puzzles and paradoxes: How fast does time flow? What sort of modalities are involved, and how can they change into one another? Is reality a prop- erty the present can acquire and then lose? We want to talk accurately and scientifically, and to eschew metaphors, concentrating on features that stay reliably the same from one person to another and from one occasion to another. But if we confine our discourse to non-metaphorical accounts of what stays reliably the same from one person to another and from one occasion to another, we leave out the temporality that is peculiar to time. 2. Tenses In the first decade of the twentieth century McTaggart argued that time was unreal on philosophical grounds.! He claimed-correctly-that time essentiallyinvolved tense, and-incorrectly - that tenses were inherently self-contradictory. Every event, he said, had to be both future, present and I McTaggart (1908).
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2 Chapter 1 past, but these were incompatible. 2 He concluded that only tenseless dis- course was free from contradiction, but since this left out the specifically temporal features of time, no consistent account of time could be given. In discussing this contention, we need to make three distinctions. We need, first, to distinguish two claims: a strong one that tensed terms- those belonging to the A series in McTaggart's terminology-are sufficient for all temporal discourse; and a weaker one that the A series is a perfectly consistent part of temporal discourse which also includes tenseless dis- course- the B series in McTaggart's terminology. We need, second, to distinguish the claim that the A series is not self-contradictory from the exercise of giving an adequate philosophical exegesis of it. And, third, we need to distinguish the tensed uses of verbs from a tenseless one, first noticed by Plato,3 and now widely used in mathematics and the natural sciences. I adapt a suggestion of Professor Smart, who italicized verbs used in a tenseless way;4 I not only italicize them but put them into the infinitive, saying that two and two be four, in contrast to the locutions that it 'was cold last night', 'is getting dark now', and 'will be warm next summer'. Once we make this distinction,
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MCTAGGART A-series vs. B-series - 1 A Century of Time J R...

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