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The Time of Our Lives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 May 2010

Extract

Early last century an article appeared which transformed the philosophy of time. The article was James Ellis McTaggart's ‘The unreality of time’, published in 1908. As his title implies, McTaggart argued in this article that there is in reality no such thing as time. But that claim, although startling enough, is not what makes the article so remarkable. The same claim had after all been made long before McTaggart, for example by Kant in 1781, and in McTaggart's sense it is still made by those who think that time is merely one of the four dimensions of an unchanging ‘block universe’. However, most of those who think this are more influenced by Minkowski's comment, also made in 1908, that relativity has doomed space and time to ‘fade away into mere shadows’ of a unified spacetime than they are by McTaggart's more substantial arguments.

Type
Papers
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2001

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References

1 McTaggart, J. M. E., ‘The Unreality of Time’, Mind 18, 457484.Google Scholar

2 Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Smith, N. Kemp, (London: Macmillan, 1781), 76.Google Scholar

3 Minkowski, H., ‘Space and Time’, trans. Perrett, W. and Jeffrey, G. B., The Principle of Relativity, A. Einstein et al. (London: Methuen, 1908), 75.Google Scholar

4 See Oaklander, L. Nathan and Smith, Quentin (eds), The New Theory of Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).Google Scholar

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10 For present purposes we can neglect all such distances and delays. For first, they may be negligible, as they are for so-called ‘basic actions’ like moving our limbs (see Danto, Arthur, ‘Basic Actions’, American Philosophical Quarterly 2 (1965), 141148Google Scholar). And second, even when they are not negligible, they mostly only affect when an action ends, not when it starts. Thus my action, going to London, started almost as soon as I acquired the belief that it was time to leave Cambridge. That belief is what caused my action, i.e. caused it to start, then and there, even though the action ended sixty miles away and ninety minutes later. So even in this case it is true enough to say that our actions are caused by the beliefs and desires we have when we do them, meaning when we start to do them.

11 Robb, A. A., A Theory of Time and Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914)Google Scholar; Reichenbach, Hans, The Philosophy of Space and Time, trans. Reichenbach, Maria and Freund, John, (New York: Dover, 1928).Google Scholar

12 See my Real Time II (London: Routledge, 1998), chs 10–12.Google Scholar

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15 E.g. Kaplan, David, ‘On the Logic of Demonstratives’, Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (1979), 8198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 See e.g. Perry, op. cit.; Real Time II, ch. 6.

17 Smith, Peter and Jones, O. R., The Philosophy of Mind: an Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). chs 10–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Whyte, op. cit.

19 E.g. Davidson, Donald, ‘Truth and Meaning’, Synthese 17 (1967), 304–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kaplan op. cit.

20 Real Time II, chs 2–3.

21 For an introduction to some of this literature, see for example: ‘Time’ and related entries in Craig, Edward J. (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1998)Google Scholar; Horwich, Paul, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987)Google Scholar; Flood, Raymond and Lockwood, Michael (eds), The Nature of Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986)Google Scholar; Butterfield, Jeremy (ed.), The Arguments of Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).Google Scholar