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John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart[a] FBA (1866–1925) was an English idealist metaphysician. For most of his life McTaggart was a fellow and lecturer in philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was an exponent of the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and among the most notable of the British idealists. McTaggart is known for "The Unreality of Time" (1908), in which he argues that time is unreal. The work has been widely discussed through the 20th century and into the 21st.

Despite its power and originality this half of McTaggart's argument has, historically, received less attention than the second half.

McTaggart's attempted proof of the incoherence of the A series (the argument of pages 468–9) appears in the original paper only as a single part of a broader argument for this conclusion. According to the argument, the contradiction in our perception of time is that all events exemplify all three of the properties of the A-series, viz. being past, present and future. As McTaggart himself notes, the obvious response is that while exemplifying all three properties at some time, no event exemplifies all three at once, no event is past, present, and future. A single event is present, will have been future, will be past, and here there is, it seems, no contradiction. However, McTaggart argues that this response gives rise to a vicious circle and infinite regress. There is a vicious circle because the response requires us to invoke the A-series determinations of future, present, and past to explain how the events of the series do not exemplify those determinations simultaneously but successively. And there is a vicious regress because invoking tense to explain how different tenses are exemplified successively, gives rise to second order tenses that again are incompatible unless we again invoke tense to show how they are exemplified successively, etcetera ad infinitum. It bears to mention that in the mature version of the argument McTaggart has given up the claim that there is a vicious circle, but only a vicious regress.[7]

One can convey the basic idea of the vicious regress in the following way. In order to avoid the initial apparent contradiction that events have incompatible tenses, one has to construe "a second A series, within which the first falls, in the same way in which events fall within the first" (p. 469). But even if the idea of a second A series within which the first fall

One can convey the basic idea of the vicious regress in the following way. In order to avoid the initial apparent contradiction that events have incompatible tenses, one has to construe "a second A series, within which the first falls, in the same way in which events fall within the first" (p. 469). But even if the idea of a second A series within which the first falls makes sense (and McTaggart doubts it does, p. 469), it will face the same contradiction. And so, we must construct a third A series within which the second falls. And this will require the construction of a fourth A series and so on ad infinitum. At any given stage the contradiction will appear; however far we go in constructing A series, each A series will be, without reference to a further A series containing it, contradictory. One ought to conclude, McTaggart argues, that the A series is indeed contradictory and, therefore, does not exist.

Whether McTaggart's argument for the incoherence of the A series works or not, is one of the most hotly debated issues in the philosophy of time (see the entry for "The Unreality of Time" for a more thorough discussion).

In his later work, particularly his two-volume The Nature of Existence, McTaggart developed his own, highly original, metaphysical system. The most famous element is his defence of The Unreality of Time, but McTaggart's system was much broader. In The Nature of Existence McTaggart defended a similar Hegelian view of the universe to that of his earlier work on the basis not of Hegel's dialectics but rather in the mode of more modern metaphysics.

McTaggart concluded the world was composed of nothing but souls, each soul related to one or more of the others by love. He argued against belief in God since he denied the absolute any single personality (thereby justifying his atheism). His philos

McTaggart concluded the world was composed of nothing but souls, each soul related to one or more of the others by love. He argued against belief in God since he denied the absolute any single personality (thereby justifying his atheism). His philosophy, however, was fundamentally optimistic. McTaggart believed each of the souls (which are identified with human beings) to be immortal and defended the idea of reincarnation. McTaggart held the view that all selves are unoriginated and indestructible.[8] The Nature of Existence also seeks to synthesise McTaggart's denial of the existence of time, matter etc. with their apparent existence.

Despite the mystical tone of its conclusions, the philosophical method of The Nature of Existence is far from mystical. McTaggart arrived at his conclusions by a careful analysis of the essential requirements of any successful metaphysical system (Volume I) followed by a purported proof that only his system satisfies these requirements (Volume II). The logical rigour of his system is in evidence, for example, in McTaggart's famous attempted proof of the unreality of time.

McTaggart was a friend and teacher of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, and, according to Norbert Wiener[9][10], the three were known as "The Mad Tea-Party of Trinity" (with McTaggart as the Dormouse). Along with Russell and Moore, McTaggart was a member of the Cambridge Apostles through which he would have a personal influence on an entire generation of writers and politicians (his involvement with the Apostles presumably overlapped with that of, among others, the members of the Bloomsbury group) .

In particular, McTaggart was an early influence on Bertrand Russell. It was through McTaggart that the young Russell was converted to the prevalent Hegelianism of the day, and it was Russell's reaction against this Hegelianism that began the arc of his later work.

McTaggart was the most influential ad

In particular, McTaggart was an early influence on Bertrand Russell. It was through McTaggart that the young Russell was converted to the prevalent Hegelianism of the day, and it was Russell's reaction against this Hegelianism that began the arc of his later work.

McTaggart was the most influential advocate of neo-Hegelian idealism in Cambridge at the time of Russell and Moore's reaction against it, as well as being a teacher and personal acquaintance of both men. With F. H. Bradley of Oxford he was, as the most prominent of the surviving British Idealists, the primary target of the new realists' assault. McTaggart's indirect influence was, therefore, very great. Given that modern analytic philosophy can arguably be traced to the work of Russell and Moore in this period, McTaggart's work retains interest to the historian of analytic philosophy despite being, in a very real sense, the product of an earlier age.

The Nature of Existence, with T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics and Bradley's Appearance and Reality, marks the greatest achievement of British idealism, and McTaggart was the last major British Idealist of the classic period (for the later development of British idealism, see T. L. S. Sprigge).