McTaggart's famous argument that the A-series is contradictory is vitiated by an unsatisfactory conceptualization of tenses which can be corrected by making explicit their relational structure. This leads into a much sharper formulation of his apparent contradiction, and defusing this apparent contradiction requires a careful distinction between tensed and tenseless descriptions of thoughts. As a result the ‘unreality’ of tense turns out to rest on the fact that tensed descriptions of temporal facts do not capture their identity. This ‘metaphysical’ priority of tenseless over tensed descriptions of time is, however, counterbalanced by an ‘epistemological’ priority of tensed thoughts over tenseless thoughts: a conception of tense which requires a form of self-consciousness turns out to be an essential ingredient of rational thought.
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