A critique of McTaggart’s argument and a defense of a version of presentism from a later Wittgensteinian perspective


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Grech, Michael (2023). A critique of McTaggart’s argument and a defense of a version of presentism from a later Wittgensteinian perspective. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The thesis attempts to do four things. First it provides an interpretation of McTaggat’s argument against the reality of time. McTaggart claims that the reality of time requires the reality of two series: the A- and the B-series. In the B-series events and times are positioned earlier/later than each other. This arrangement of events and times is unchanging. In the A-series events change from being future, to being present to being past events. They do so by instantiating incompatible A-series characteristics, which in language-game are expressed by the predicates ‘is future’, ‘is present’ and ‘is past’. McTaggart holds that the reality of time requires the reality of change. Since the A-series is the only series that admits of change, the reality of time requires the reality of the A-series. However, since the reality of the A-series gives rise incompatible facts – represented through sentences like ‘The Battle of Waterloo is past.’ and ‘The Battle of Waterloo is future.’ – the A-series is contradictory. From this McTaggart concludes that the A-series and time itself cannot be real. Arguments which claim that McTaggart is wrong in holding that linguistic expressions like ‘is past’ and ‘is future’ are predicates standing for A-series characteristics (holding instead that these are indexical expressions) or that he mischaracterizes the logical form of sentences like ‘The Battle of Waterloo is past.’, fail to challenge the validity and soundness of his argument.

Secondly, the thesis presents an overview of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, focusing on his entries about meaning. It discusses the notions of language-game, rules and hinge assumptions, and interprets Wittgenstein’s claim that the meaning of a linguistic expression is its use. In light of this interpretation of these key Wittgensteinian notions and claims, and of what it takes to be Wittgenstein’s later approach to philosophical problems and issues in general, the thesis critically analyses McTaggart’s arguments. This is the third main enterprise attempted in the thesis.

The thesis argues that McTaggart’s paradox arises because he misinterprets sentences like ‘The Battle of Waterloo is past.’; thinking that these sentences are used to predicate an A-series characteristics of an event that would be part of the world. McTaggart is lead astray by a presupposition he makes in his argument – the eternalist presupposition which holds that the reality of time requires the world to contain all events we consider to be in the past, the present and the future arranged along two series. Instead – in a manner typical of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy – the thesis holds that one should consider how sentences like ‘The Battle of Waterloo is present.’ and ‘The Battle of Waterloo is past.’ are typically used in the language-games, situations and circumstances where they are usually employed. The typical use of these sentences would reveal that this is committed to a contrary presupposition – a presentist presuppositions which holds that the world contains only events and/or entities that exist at present. This implies a version of a particular notion of time – presentism. The version of this notion of time that will be upheld in the thesis is called ‘default presentism’.

Presentsim is a controversial notion, that has been criticized on a number of counts. The thesis discusses three criticisms concerning the content, ontological commitments and truth of sentences about past entities like ‘Napoleon was the First Emperor of France.’. These respectively claim that the sentence in question expresses a singular proposition that contains the past entity Napoleon, that it is asserting and implying that Napoleon is part of the world and that the truth of the sentence requires that Napoleon exists. All three would imply that default presentism is false. The thesis discusses these three criticisms of presentism in detail, and refutes each, using resources from Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. This is the fourth enterprise which the thesis attempts. The thesis argues that if – in Later Wittgensteinian fashion – one focuses on the typical uses of sentences like ‘Napoleon was the First Emperor of France.’, one would see that the sentence is not expressing a proposition that has Napoleon amongst its constituents. The typical use of the sentence is also not implying or asserting that Napoleon is part of the world. The truth of the sentence does not require that Napoleon exists. This is consistent with default presentism

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Philosophy
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13390


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