McTaggart on the Unreality of Time: Boghossian's Argument against Error-Theory

Zehn 81:91-115 (2020)
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McTaggart, in his famous paper, “The Unreality of Time” (1908), argues in favor of the sceptical claim that time is unreal. His main argument is based on detecting a paradox in our ordinary descriptions of time or events occurring in time. Based on our common sense conception of time, time and the events happening in it can be described in two ways: either as having the properties of “being past”, “being present” and “being future”, or as having the properties of “being earlier than”, “being later than”, or “being simultaneous with”. McTaggart argues that employing the second sort of properties fails to properly explain “change” in time. However, having assumed the essentiality of the first type of properties to time, McTaggart argues that these properties will themselves lead to a paradox, according to which all events are at the same time in the past, present, and future. In this essay, we are going to provide a clear exposition of McTaggart’s argument and briefly review some of the main responses to it. We will then show that McTaggart’s argument will amount to error-theory about the content of our utterances about time. We will then employ Boghossian’s argument against error-theory (1990) to show why McTaggart’s argument leads to paradoxical conclusions.

Author Profiles

Ali Hossein Khani
Iranian Institute of Philosophy (IRIP)
Saeedeh Shahmir
Allameh Tabataba'i University


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