Philosophy Magazine

Solve That Paradox: The Unreality of Time

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance


This is the first edition of Realizing Resonance’s Solve That Paradox. This is where we attempt to explain a paradox in philosophy and ask you the readers to solve it for us. In January the theme is Time, and given this I will dive into McTaggart’s Paradox.

In 1908 the British Philosopher John M. E. McTaggart challenged the normal understanding of time with his essay “The Unreality of Time”. According to McTaggart there are two ways to think of events as ordered within time. We can either think of them as falling into the relations of past, present, and future, or we can think of them as relations of earlier-than or later-than. He called the past, present, and future relations the A-Series, and the earlier/later-than relations the B-Series. He further argued that the B-Series is dependent on the A-Series for us to make sense of change over time. This is because earlier-than and later-than relations are fixed and do not change, so the notions of past, present, and future must be included for time to be related to change, which it must for our normal understanding of it.

McTaggart then demonstrates that the A-Series is incoherent and leads to a paradox:

“Thus our first statement about [event] M - that it is present, will be past, and has been future - means that M is present at a moment of present time, past at some moment of future time, and future at some moment of past time. But every moment, like every event, is both past, present, and future…If M is present, there is no moment of past time at which it is past. But the moments of future time, in which it is past, are equally moments of past time, in which it cannot be past. Again, that M is future and will be present and past means that M is future at a moment of present time, and present and past at different moments of future time. In that case it cannot be present or past at any moments of past time. But all moments of future time, in which M will be present or past, are equally moments of past time…and thus we get a contradiction…whenever we percieve anything in time…we are experiencing it more or less as it really is not.” (McTaggart 33-34)

I know this is tricky to conceptualize, so I have laid out the problem in a table below:


McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time has led to a debate between A-Theorists, or Tensers, and B-Theorists, or De-Tensers, ever since. How would you solve McTaggart’s Paradox?

Jared Roy Endicott

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Works Cited:

McTaggart, John M.E.. “The Unreality of Time.” The Philosophy of Time. Eds. Robin Le Poidevin and Murray MacBeath. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993 (original 1908). 23-34. Print.



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