Avi Sagi: Living With the Other: The Ethic of Inner Retreat, Springer, 2018

Living With the Other: The Ethic of Inner Retreat Book Cover Living With the Other: The Ethic of Inner Retreat
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 99
Avi Sagi
Hardback 80,24 €
X, 190

Jacques Derrida: Before the Law: The Complete Text of Préjugés, University of Minnesota Press, 2018

Before the Law: The Complete Text of Préjugés Book Cover Before the Law: The Complete Text of Préjugés
Jacques Derrida. Translated by Sandra van Reenen and Jacques de Ville
University of Minnesota Press
Paperback $22.50

Axel Honneth, Espen Hammer, Peter E. Gordon (Eds.): The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School, Routledge, 2018

The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School Book Cover The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School
Routledge Philosophy Companions
Axel Honneth, Espen Hammer, Peter E. Gordon (Eds.)
Hardback £175.00

Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.): Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance

Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance Book Cover Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance
Social Imaginaries
Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
Hardback $120.00 / £80.00

Reviewed by: John V. Garner (University of West Georgia)


The “Social Imaginaries” series from Rowman and Littlefield International aims to publish important works on this and related concepts “from theoretical, comparative, historical, and interdisciplinary perspectives” and with an “international, multi-regional and interdisciplinary scope.”[i] The present volume focuses more narrowly on thinkers its editors see as having provided the basis for philosophical discussions of productive imagination, specifically the continental tradition following Kant (vii). This focus is not meant to be exclusive but rather supportive of diversity and further original inquiries (xii). With this goal in mind, the volume indeed offers eight helpful, well-researched essays; and we may hope that this strong foundation will spark future studies meeting the more global aspirations above.

This review will outline what I see as the central arguments of each of the essays. My goals are to reveal the broader lines of their interconnected narrative and then to indicate a few potentially fruitful avenues for future research suggested by the volume.

The Contributions

One of the volume’s most sweeping essays is its first one, Dmitri Nikulin’s “What is Productive Imagination?” Nikulin situates the modern concept of imagination within the grand history of Western ideas, from the Greeks to German idealism. Aristotle’s imagination, defined as the capacity to have an “apparition of a thing in the absence of that thing,” plays a central role in this narrative (3). Even so, Nikulin notes that Aristotle leaves the imagination’s powers dependent on prior perceptions, and thus his view contrasts with the Kantian imagination’s potential apriority and spontaneity (4). Nevertheless, even for Kant imagination remains doubly dependent: it is bound to sensibility insofar it must offer presentations within the predefined formats of spatial and temporal intuitions; and it is bound to understanding insofar as it constructs figures or schemata within the constraints of the a priori categories (4-5). If the former constraint links Kant to Aristotle, the latter reveals some similarity to Proclus, for whom the imagination adapts the intelligible, Platonic forms to finite thinking (6). In either sense, however, Kant’s imagination, even in his aesthetics, ultimately serves to harmonize other faculties: understanding and the senses. Thus, its spontaneity is always contained by rational norms and the receptive capacities of the subject; it has no completely independent status (11).

Even so, the imagination has a strong grip over us precisely because it can actively overlook its essential dependency. Thus, Nikulin speaks of the imagination as having a “negative” power to deny its sources (14). In this respect, imagination’s supposed originality must be hedged: “imagination imagines that it produces something new” (14, my emphasis). It creates a pretention to positive creativity, even though it is really a “radical negativity” (14). This pretension appeared dangerous to Kant, whose arguments restricted even creative genius to the mere exemplification of rules; absolute creativity he reserved for the idea of God (14).[ii] As later thinkers tried increasingly to free imagination from this Kantian dependency, they steadily severed its link with experience and thus lost the vital relationship between imagination and memory (19).

Two questions come to mind in light of Nikulin’s compelling conceptual history. First, its caution against severing the link with memory is related to Nikulin’s broader point that imagination somehow renders “non-being” (i.e. what does not presently exist) present for us. In Nikulin’s account, however, “non-being” carries the significance of the past, the has-been, or the no-longer (20). In this sense, the question of the imagination’s relation to hope and to futural “non-being” could be raised. I will return to this avenue later, as it is suggested by other contributors.

Second, Nikulin’s stage-setting essay displays the broadly European focus of the volume, with few references beyond that scope. Additional avenues thus appear for research on non-European conceptions of imagination or its analogues. Likewise, within the broader canon, future research could explore the medieval adaptation of the Aristotelian phantasm, and especially its history in Islamic thought. For even the European reception of Aristotle and Proclus is heavily mediated through the Islamic tradition (e.g. al-Kindī on prophecy and dreams; Ibn Sīnā’s explicit distinction of estimation from imagination and his widespread use of imaginal thought experiments; Ibn Tufail’s use of fictional narrative; Ibn Arabi’s “nondelimited imagination”; and so on).

Kant’s importance in the history of productive imagination is of course clear as well, and Alfredo Ferrarin’s essay defends the importance of Kant’s liberation of imagination from its previous role of copying contingent events of sensibility. Imagination now “moves about idealizations and conjectures formulated in deliberately counterintuitive ways, transforms things into possibilities until we establish an invariant core, and plans experiments to verify conjectures” (33). Its emergence in philosophy is thus linked historically with the emergence of the scientific method (32). This link likewise explains why Ferrarin warns us not to confuse Kant’s scientific “productive imagination” with the truly social-ethical “practical imagination,” which is only hinted at in Kant. The practical imagination aims not at understanding objects but at instituting practical end-goals. In the latter we find no “split between independent reality and likeness” as we do in the former (38). (Ferrarin mentions cases such as the constantly reinstituted social meanings of, e.g., bank notes, temples, marriage, and traffic rules.) In general, Ferrarin emphasizes that the practical imagination enables us to grasp alternative practical possibilities; it reveals “the gap between being and possibility, fact and ideal, real and possible” (38). Thus, imagination is necessary for a social critique capable of proposing new norms, in the sense Ernst Bloch and Castoriadis recognized (39). Ferrarin’s essay is thus essential for understanding the way the term “imaginary” is often used in critical theory and practical philosophy and how these development differ from Kant’s scientific imagination. That said, Ferrarin does suggest that Kant’s aesthetics—and other contributors concur regarding other aspects of later Kant—offers hints of the practical imaginary (45).

Moving the narrative from Kant to German romanticism, Laura S. Carugati argues that we move there from an “ontogonic” to a “cosmogonic” use of imagination (52). In other words, for figures like Novalis, Schleiermacher, and Schlegel, imagination provides the basic framework or “horizon” for the experience of objects, rather than merely prefiguring the particular objects we perceive. In Schlegel, this shift liberates the imagination from the aforementioned Kantian norms; and hence Carugati highlights Schlegel’s claim that “because imagination won’t let itself be linked to the world of things […], it can function in a free and independent manner, according to its own laws” (54). Similarly, in Novalis, “to romanticize” becomes an active, imaginal engagement aiming to unite the poles of the various Kantian dualisms (55). The resultant synthesis, known as “art,” is not a mere product or thing but rather a life-structuring “event” (57). Arts, as engagements in imagination, do not merely imitate or reproduce but rather “discover or institute an ordering principle that shapes the original chaos into a romanticized world” (57). In a sense, then, even the Kantian divide between human productivity and divine creativity gets mediated here; art and reality become indistinguishable.

We may note at this point the helpful coherency of the volume’s narrative as it places each figure in conversation with contemporaries and predecessors. This historically informed narrative is again supported by Angelica Nuzzo’s compelling contribution on German idealism. She defends the centrality of productive imagination not only in Fichte and Schelling (where it plays an explicitly important role) but also in Hegel, where the textual evidence for its centrality is much less prevalent. Nuzzo claims that “Hegelian spirit is informed by the Kantian notion of productivity proper to the imagination of the genius,” albeit in a way that gets “extended beyond the aesthetic realm, and thereby deeply transformed” (73). Imagination moves from a merely subjective role into an absolute role as “self-actualizing conceptuality” (77).

Nuzzo’s argument could be reconstructed into four steps. First, Kant’s third Critique suggests that imagination is schöpferisch (and perhaps not merely exhibitive of aesthetic ideas); it creates “another nature” from the given nature of the senses (74). Second, Fichte notices and radicalizes this creativity, such that imagination produces even the “material for representation” (74). And this productivity, Nuzzo argues, is equated by Fichte with Geist. Third, Schelling renders the imagination productive not only of representation but also of the actuality of things themselves, thus giving it the absolute role Kant had reserved for intellectual intuition (71). Finally, fourth, Hegel appropriates but reworks and reverses this “absolute” productive imagination. Certainly, on the one hand, Nuzzo acknowledges that the Encyclopedia subordinates imagination to a merely subjective moment of spirit (76). But this subordination does not stop Hegel, she argues, from adopting exactly the productivity highlighted by the preceding idealists’ account of imagination. Thus, on the other hand, the Phenomenology and Logic, she argues, adapt this very productivity to the role of a self-producing absolute, with the caveat that, contra Schelling, its truth is now said to be revealed only in the end of its development. For Hegel, “no absolute identity, absolute indifference, or absolute creation out of nothing […] can be placed as the beginning-origin of an immanent discursive process” (77). Instead, for Hegel, “the logical determination process is immanently and successively articulated toward ever more complex determinations up to the ‘absolute idea’ that makes the end” (78).

While Nuzzo’s thesis might sound extra-textual, it is in fact very closely defended with links between Hegel’s texts and those of Kant and Fichte. And if we remember that she aims merely to show that “some fundamental characters of the productive imagination […] become constitutive traits of Hegel’s own notion of Geist” (77, my emphasis), then we should be, I believe, persuaded, despite the relative non-centrality of the vocabulary of “productive imagination” in Hegel. Nuzzo’s contribution is likewise essential to this volume insofar as it defends a narrative leading into Hegel that can help clarify our persistent suspicion that there are Hegel-like traces in later concepts often referred to under the broad label of “social imaginary.”

The conversation within German thought continues with Rudolph A. Makkreel’s essay on Dilthey. Whereas Kant’s aesthetic imagination helps us shift from narrow, personal experiences of pleasure to universal judgments of taste, Dilthey similarly thinks that imagination can broaden us and test “how local commonalities relate to universally accepted truths” (92). This broadening occurs partly through what Dilthey calls the “typifying imagination.” Artists, for example, can “articulate” felt connections pervasive in an era by exemplifying them into figures, characters, or events (87). Whereas thinking produces concepts, imagination “produces types” (95). And whereas the historian’s imagination merely fills in gaps and supplies coherency, the artist’s has more freedom (e.g. in fiction, painting, etc.). With artworks, we experience their “typicality” not when we understand something generic about them (like norms) nor when we look at particular, material qualities. Rather, for Dilthey, the typicality of an artwork its “distinctive style.” For example: “The style of a Cézanne painting cannot be intuitively defined by the visible lines and colors […]. Style is an inner form that can only be imaginatively captured by following out the intense interplay of the angular and curved shapes that Cézanne projects into our medial horizon of vision” (96).

With respect to this “inner form,” important for Makkreel is Dilthey’s shift from an earlier view arguing that it is discovered through personal introspection, to a later, non-psychologistic, and more contextualized view that the “feelings of a composer like Beethoven are musical from the start and exist in a tonal world” (99). That is, we must be conversant with a broader system of perspectives and facts (as seen “from without”) in order to understand ourselves or others (101). In this sense, Dilthey accepts the Hegelian concept of objective spirit, with the qualification that his rendition of spirit is nothing that “submerges individuals and regulates human interaction in the overall course of world history” but rather is a “locally definable ‘medium of commonalities’ that nurtures each of us ‘from earliest childhood’” (101). The best way to think about such local “artistic medial contexts” is to consider particular examples: “Beethoven cannot but think of Haydn and Mozart when composing a quartet while also striving to chart his own path” (102). Grasping these larger constellations of sense requires tapping into an imagination that “goes beyond reality in such a way as to illuminate it” (85).

This point about the imagination’s power to “go beyond reality” opens up some important avenues for research on additional figures whose inquiries emphasize similar functions. We might think of Feuerbach’s imagination, with its power to alienate us through negating our dependency and this-worldly finitude. This critical route would of course lead into discussions of Marx and Freud but also through Husserl into Sartre’s early works, which contain, as in Dilthey, more positive valences regarding this “going beyond.” In Sartre, for example, beauty is said to be “a value that can only ever be applied to the imaginary and that carries the nihilation of the world in its essential structure.”[iii] Using the very example of Beethoven, he argues that “the performance of the Seventh Symphony […] can be manifested only through analogons that are dated and that unfurl in our time. But in order to grasp it on these analogons, it is necessary to operate the imaging reduction, which is to say, apprehend precisely the real sounds as analogons.”[iv] Sartre thus engages with two themes central to this volume, namely imagination’s link to non-being and, as in Dilthey (and later in Ricoeur), its helpful role in revealing the world through an “as”-structure.

Next, breaking the train of German thought is Nicolas de Warren’s essay on Flaubert’s diagnosis of human self-deception (as interpreted by Jules de Gaultier). The essay proposes a valuable distinction between productive imagination and creative, novelistic imagination (106). With the productive side we imagine ourselves as something other than what we are and thus become self-deceptive. The creative side, by contrast, which is manifest in the novelist’s art, allows us to perceive the self-deception without falling prey to it. The artist’s perception “becomes a truthful mirror of the world by virtue of the imagination’s power of magnification, or modification, which renders visible what remains otherwise invisible” (113). The novelist shares in a kind of “pure perception,” i.e. an “absorption” in the world rather than a scientific “possession” of an object (113). This pure perception generates the novel almost as a by-product and allows an adult to learn that she falsely “pursues a notion of herself for which neither she nor the world affords” (123). Such false images are not merely epistemically worrisome, as de Warren clarifies, since they also impact the world of our desires, as when a person “makes the world around her boring in order to despise the world even more so as to serve as propellant for an even more vengeful and intense abandonment to the imaginary” (129).

De Warren’s essay brings to mind two avenues. First, his essay links self-deception to productive imagination’s power to deny what we are. Flaubert’s characters are shown to succumb “to the universal fiction of striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be” (107). That said, other contributors raise the prospect of finding positive value in imagination’s penchant for proposing non-extant alternatives, i.e. ones worth striving for. Hence, de Warren’s essay raises the question: Could there be a good version of “striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be”?

Second, de Warren’s essay could perhaps be read as an alternative account of what René Girard refers to as Flaubert’s “novelistic truth.”[v] Certainly, Girard’s and de Warren’s readings agree that “truthful forms of fiction” helpfully reveal the dangers of self-deceit and self-imposed insatiability (110). But a difference may reside in whether we think the novelist’s deliverance from self-deception stems from what de Warren emphasizes or what Girard claims. De Warren emphasizes that deliverance is achieved through the novelist’s share in pure perception, or an engagement with the world prior to and free from socially-influenced self-images. On this reading, the problem behind self-deception is that the “spontaneity of an individual’s self-shaping personality” has become “reduced to a condition of mimetic inertness” in our society (112). Self-deception consists in a person concealing from herself the fact that “she is the author of her own fate” (124). By contrast, on Girard’s reading, Flaubert unmasks precisely as self-deceit one’s belief that one is the unmediated, pre-social author of desires, i.e. desires that would be valid simply because they are one’s own. Under the sway of such a belief one fails to see that one’s desires are always mediated through imitation of others’ desires. The novel offers deliverance in that it allows us to see through the vanity of the “romantic lie” and to critically recognize our own interdependency. Hence, if I understand them correctly, these readings not only differ but pull in opposite directions. I should state that I am not unsympathetic per se to either reading of Flaubert; rather, it is the prospect of a dialogue that strikes me as a fruitful avenue to pursue.

As for an important dialogue that is explored in this volume, Saulius Geniusas reviews the Cassirer-Heidegger encounter at Davos. Geniusas frames the debate as hinging only overtly on divergent interpretations of imagination in Kant. On Cassirer’s reading, the productive imagination is formed and contextualized by its share in an independent understanding and reason; for Heidegger, reason is formed and contextualized by the finitely situated productive imagination (138). But the deeper issue between them, argues Geniusas (agreeing with Peter E. Gordon), concerns their basically divergent philosophies, including their views on moral freedom. Cassirer thinks imagination’s share in reason allows it spontaneity and the power to step back from any finite dwelling. Fundamentally “homeless,” we can use our imaginations to “trespass the boundaries of […] merely natural existence and enter into the domain culture,” where we construct an infinite variety of cultural modes of existence (140). For Heidegger, by contrast, the productive imagination defines our existential-temporal mode of receptivity to a world and thus marks us—in both our knowledge and action—as essentially finite. Cassirer, Heidegger thinks, lacks a fundamental ontology of the supposedly fully spontaneous being who “enters into” cultural constellations; he suggests Cassirer’s view would merely define humanity through studies of different cultural—and merely ontic—contexts (139). Cassirer would thus (re)create “the ‘They’ world and the deeper forgetfulness of one’s ontological roots” (140). In response, Cassirer thinks Heidegger’s basic mistake is to refuse the independence of reason, as a source of imagination’s freedom, from finite imagination and intuition. This refusal, argues Cassirer, implies the impossibility of genuine moral autonomy or the universality of ethics in Kant’s sense (147).

Certainly, as Geniusas shows, Heidegger and Cassirer attain a kind of nominal agreement on some broad issues, e.g. that productive imagination “produces the transcendental horizons of sense, the operational fields, or the modes of vision, which predetermine human experience” (150). But their basic trajectories, argues Geniusas, are in the last analysis “fundamentally different” (151). Cassirer’s view leads him to emphasize the constructive possibilities of a humanity drawing guidance from reason, while Heidegger emphasizes the need, in his own words, for a “destruction of the former foundation of Western metaphysics in reason (spirit, logos, reason)” (151). Even if Geniusas might not persuade some who see Cassirer and Heidegger as compatible, his essay does provide a clear statement of how the deeper projects of each thinker determine their overt disagreements over Kant.

In the volume’s final essay, George H. Taylor mines Paul Ricoeur’s broader corpus for a thesis on imagination moving beyond his merely explicit views. His explicit views emphasize the power of productive versus merely reproductive imagination and show how the former allows us to understand images separately from any concept of originals. This inquiry then helps us grasp how fictions can be efficacious in altering reality (159). As for Ricoeur’s more implicit views on imagination, Taylor draws on texts from the 1970s and 80s to highlight the concept of “figuration,” a term avoiding merely visual connotations and allowing Ricoeur to analyze metaphor (167). In epistemology, the concept of figuration expands on Kant’s suggestion of an ever-present, “common root” between understanding and sensibility. It implies that reality is only ever given as already saturated with “symbolic” mediation (166). “We do not see; we see as—as the icon, as the figure” (170). Similarly, Taylor finds a parallel role for figuration in Ricoeur’s view of human action: no action is just physical motion; each act always points to or modifies some extant role or another (166). These twin “as”-structures thus always mediate for us between sense and concept, or between deeds and their narration (165). Since there is thus no mode of human life without figuration’s various modes, we can never fully leave behind what Hegel calls “picture thinking” (173). All modes of thought or action occur on the backdrop of an already instituted and “readable” world (171).

In this respect, Taylor’s essay points to a question we have already raised. Several contributions caution against the dangers of denying a connection with one’s past or of losing the link between imagination and memory. Yet it is likewise true that what will arise anew for (and from) each of us tomorrow “is not” as of today but rather, if it indeed comes to be, will emerge tomorrow with an unparalleled uniqueness (at least in some stratum of its emergent reality). Does not the human tendency to overlook the newness in each historical moment (emerging in some sense from “non-being”) constitute a distinct danger, alongside that of forgetting the sedimented nature of the meanings and roles we adopt? While this volume does at times speak to this concern, it refrains—perhaps for the best—from lingering on it or on the metaphysical quandaries involved in references to non-being and creativity. On this issue, interested readers might thus benefit from a sister volume in the “Social Imaginaries,” i.e. the analysis of the Ricoeur-Castoriadis debate.[vi] Taylor, it should be mentioned, also helpfully contributed there.

Done and to be Done

As I have indicated, the merits of this volume are clear. It offers a valuable combination of introductory guidance and original theses. It contains helpful clarifications of how philosophical concepts develop through inter-philosophical dialogue but also in conversation with the arts. It likewise opens avenues for exploring the grand, metaphysical question of human creativity in history. If we approach it aware of its deliberate focus on the Kantian and continental tradition, we will see that its chapters develop a coherent “conceptual history” of a core moment in philosophy. We thus have reason to hope that it will achieve its goal of enabling broader studies on productive imagination. And as it stands, this volume’s essays—appropriate to the productivity they investigate—already instantiate one of the volumes frequent themes: human creativity arises in and with a community of contributors, both extant ones and ones hoped for.

[i] “Social Imaginaries,” Rowman & Littlefield International, last accessed: July 24, 2018: https://www.rowmaninternational.com/our-publishing/series/social-imaginaries/.

[ii] Apart from its emphasis on imagination’s mere negativity, we may note the proximity of Nikulin’s account to the thesis of Cornelius Castoriadis’ essay, “The Discovery of the Imagination” (from 1978; in World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, ed. David A. Curtis, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997). Castoriadis argues that fear of imagination’s creativity has led philosophers to attribute the truly instituting power not to us but to other beings (e.g. ancestors, gods, God, nature, etc.). Both Nikulin and Castoriadis seem to me to echo, somewhat divergently, Heidegger’s reading of Kant as having discovered but later denied the radical implications of productive imagination.

[iii] Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, trans. Jonathan Webber, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 193.

[iv] Sartre, Imaginary, 193.

[v] René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

[vi] See Suzi Adams (ed.), Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary, London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017.

Thomas Binder: Franz Brentano und sein philosophischer Nachlass, De Gruyter, 2019

Franz Brentano und sein philosophischer Nachlass Book Cover Franz Brentano und sein philosophischer Nachlass
Textologie 4
Thomas Binder
Walter de Gruyter
Hardback € 109.95

Ferdinand Fellmann: Lebensgefühle: Wie es ist, ein Mensch zu sein, Meiner, 2018

Lebensgefühle: Wie es ist, ein Mensch zu sein Book Cover Lebensgefühle: Wie es ist, ein Mensch zu sein
Blaue Reihe
Ferdinand Fellmann
Paperback 16,90 €

R.D. Ingthorsson: McTaggart’s Paradox

McTaggart's Paradox Book Cover McTaggart's Paradox
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
R.D. Ingthorsson
Hardback £115.00

Reviewed by: Kristie Miller (The University of Sydney)

Revisiting McTaggart

Few articles in the recent history of philosophy have yielded as large, and confusing, a literature as has McTaggart’s 1908 the Unreality of Time. Whatever one thinks of the status of the argument contained in that paper—what has became known as McTaggart’s Paradox—there is no denying that it, and the distinctions McTaggart introduces in that paper, have shaped the philosophy of time in many and deep ways. Each of us working in the philosophy of time locates ourselves by appealing to McTaggart’s terminology of the A, B and C series, and by noting the ways in which we agree (and disagree) with McTaggart. Indeed, frequently philosophers’ preferred view in the philosophy of time is heavily influenced by the way they see McTaggart’s Paradox. Had McTaggart known what the future held, and had he, perchance, needed to complete an ‘Impact Statement’ for some kind of quality assessment metric, we can safely say his score would have been excellent. (Fortunately for McTaggart, he died before he ever had to turn his attention to Impact Statements). All of this makes Ingthorsson’s book length treatment of McTaggart’s Paradox in McTaggart’s Paradox, a valuable addition to the literature.

What makes the book of particular interest is that it carefully contextualises McTaggart’s arguments in his 1908 paper in terms of his overall metaphysical picture laid out in his two companion monographs The Nature of Existence I (1921) and The Nature of Existence II (1927). Ingthorsson’s book is a careful explication of McTaggart’s Paradox in the context of McTaggart’s broader metaphysical commitments. Indeed, Ingthorsson compellingly argues that failing to see the argument in these terms can, and has, led to various confusions. One of the many merits of the book is that not only does it present and interpret the argument in context, but, in so doing, provides an account of why the argument has been so very controversial, and why it remains so today. Ingthorsson argues that one of the primary causes of disagreement and confusion have been competing misinterpretations of the argument that have arisen due to viewing it as an entirely stand-alone argument that can be understood and evaluated in isolation from McTaggart’s broader commitments. Whether contemporary philosophers of time share those broader commitments or not, it is valuable to set the argument within the broader context and to see how various interpretations (or misinterpretations) of, and responses to, the argument, sit within that context. To that end, this is an important contribution.

The book is also valuable because it offers an historical overview of the various strands of responses to McTaggart’s Paradox. Ingthorsson carefully shows where contemporary responses have historical precursors, and what those are. That makes it an interesting piece in the history of philosophy. More than that, though, the book does a commendable job of categorizing the kinds of responses that have been made to McTaggart’s Paradox over the years. This is no small feat given the wealth of responses that the argument has garnered. It is much to be admired that someone has managed to sift through the various papers as they appeared from 1908 onwards, with a view to articulating and categorising those responses in a useful manner. This allows the reader to ignore the many small differences in approaches and instead focus on the important philosophical similarities between approaches. For anyone who wants to get to grips with the major threads of thought that developed in response to McTaggart, this is an invaluable resource.

While the book’s principal aim, at least as I read it, is to articulate McTaggart’s argument, place it in context, and then consider the ways in which the argument has been interpreted and responded to, the book certainly ought not be thought of as primarily about hermeneutics or history of philosophy.  Ingthorsson has plenty to say, along the way, about where he thinks responses to McTaggart’s Paradox hit the mark, and where he thinks they do not. He also offers a number of positive arguments of his own about what he thinks the argument establishes, and what he does not. These are also valuable additions to the literature. So there is much that is interesting and rewarding about the book—too much to cover in this review. Instead, in what follows I will consider just two of the issues that jumped out at me as I read, and which I thought deserved particular attention.

In reading the book I was particularly interested in its explication of McTaggart’s account of how it is that it comes to appear to us as though there is a temporal dimension—the appearance as of there being a temporally ordered succession. (Here I suppose that successions have a direction, not merely an ordering, and so the appearance is as of there being a temporal ordering that runs from past, to future). Since McTaggart thinks there is no such ordering (no such temporal ordering that is) he incurs the explanatory burden of explaining why it seems to us as though there is. This is a burden that he takes up. McTaggart’s explanation of these seemings are of particular interest in the contemporary context, since the issue of why things seem the way they do to us, temporally speaking, is one that has become pressing over the last few decades. We find contemporary A-theorists arguing that because it appears to us as though there is an A-series—it appears to us as though events occur in a particular ordered succession and that time itself passes—we have reason (albeit defeasible) to suppose that this is the way things are, and that in fact some version of the A-theory is true.[1] Or, put more strongly, such theorists argue that the best explanation for these appearances are that time is indeed this way.  B-theorists, unsurprisingly, have responded in one of two ways. They have either argued that in fact things do not appear to us this way at all[2] (though perhaps we mistakenly believe that things appear to us this way[3], or they have argued that things do indeed seem this way, but them seeming this way is an illusion.[4] The latter have attempted to spell out how it is that we are subject to this illusion, the former have attempted to spell out how it is that we come to have such false beliefs about the way things seem.

In this regard, then, the B-theorist is in something like the same boat in which McTaggart found himself. To be sure, the B-theorist does not need to explain why it seems to us though there are temporal relations despite there not being said relations, since unlike McTaggart B-theorists think that the presence of B-relations in the absence of A-properties is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations. Yet the B-theorist does owe an explanation of why it appears to us as though there is an A-series (or why we falsely believe that it seems to us that way) and in this regard she shares a common explanatory burden with McTaggart. Moreover, in that, the B-theorist is not alone. The C-theorist, who thinks that it is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations that there exist C-relations in the absence of B-relations or A-properties, incurs all the explanatory burdens accruing to the B-theorist, and more still. For the C-theorist must, in addition, explain why it seems to us as though there is a B-series: that is, she must explain not only why there appears to be an ordered temporal sequence, but also, why that ordering appears to have a direction when, according to her, it does not.[5] By contrast, since the B-theorist thinks the temporal ordering has a direction (but does not have any A-theoretic flow) she can explain this appearance as veridical. Finally, some contemporary physicists, in their desire to reconcile quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity, have defended so-called timeless physical theories, according to which there is not even a C-series ordering of events.[6] These theorists incur all of McTaggart’s explanatory burdens, since they need to explain why it seems to us as though there is a temporal ordering, when, in fact, there is none.

Given the extent to which contemporary theorists incur some, or all, of the explanatory burdens McTaggart incurred, the question of how McTaggart discharges that burden is of considerable interest. This is how Ingthorsson describes McTaggart’s approach:

McTaggart suggests that they [the terms in the C-series] are related in terms of being ‘included in’ and ‘inclusive of’ (S566 of NE). Very briefly, the only way he thinks we can explain the appearance of a series of entities related by the earlier than/later than each other is if we assume that, for any two terms in the series (except the first and last is there is a first and last) the one includes the other. The perception of a mental state that includes another can give rise to the misperception that the included content is a part of the content that includes it, and mutatis mutandis for mental states that are included in another. The relations of included in and inclusive of are asymmetric and transitive and so give a sense of direction, and are meant to be able to give rise to a false sense of change, and that in turn gives rise to a false sense of one term being earlier or later than another. (McTaggart’s Paradox pg 59).

Unsurprisingly, McTaggart appeals to the existence of the C-series, alongside certain features of our mental states, to explain the way things seem. This is important, since in doing so McTaggart appeals to the very same resources the C-theorist takes herself to have. So if his explanation is good (or at least, on the right track) then it is an explanation to which the C-theorist can avail herself. If I understand the proposal correctly, McTaggart’s explanation for the appearance as of succession (and with it, change) looks something like what have become known as retentionalist models of temporal experience. According to such models, roughly speaking, the mental state that obtains at one time can, as part of its content, include content from mental states that obtained at other times. So, in theory at least, mental states can have a nested structure, whereby one, as part of its content, includes the content of another mental state, which, in turn as part of its content, includes another mental state and so on. This complex nested structure is precisely the structure McTaggart supposes mental states to have. One might have attempted to explain this nested content in terms of the relations of earlier/later than, by noting that later mental states include content from earlier mental states (but not vice versa). But the proposal, here, would be to explain the appearance as of there being relations of earlier/later in terms of the nesting of mental states by suggesting that the appearance as of a directed succession is given by the existence of these nested states. In particular, since the relation of inclusion is itself asymmetric and transitive, then if mental states have that nested structure along the C-series ordering, then they are ordered by a relation that has the same formal features as the earlier/later than relation.

Indeed, something like this picture seems to be a precursor of contemporary C-theoretic explanations for the appearance as of temporal direction in terms of, inter alia, asymmetries of memory, knowledge, and deliberation.[7] In fact, something very close to McTaggart’s proposal is to be found in the work of contemporary timeless theorists. Those theorists, of course, do not have recourse to the existence of a C-series as a partial explanation of the way things seem. So they appeal entirely to unordered (temporally unordered, that is) nested mental states to explain why it seems to us as though there is an ordering (the appearance of ordering is, as it were, the product of the nesting) as well as why that ordering appears to have a direction.[8]

The explanation cannot, of course, end there. It might be right that this nested feature of our mental states gives rise to the appearance as of temporal succession where there is none. But there remains the question of why our mental states have this feature at all: why do some mental states include others? Given the rich resource of McTaggart’s thought, it would be of significant interest to pursue the question of what more he has to say about why mental states have these features. Of course, contemporary philosophers of time will typically point, at least in part, to features of increasing entropy to explain why mental states exhibit this ‘nesting asymmetry’; but it would be of interest to investigate McTaggart’s own views on this.

Interestingly, what all this tells us is that the gap between McTaggart and the C-theorist is, in fact, quite slender. McTaggart agrees with the C-theorist that what gives rise to the appearance as of a temporal succession is the existence of the C-series, combined with certain (asymmetric, transitive) relations (i.e. inclusion) that obtain between our mental states. Where they disagree is in whether the C-series, absent any B- or A-series, is properly called temporal or not. And there, of course, we come back to the issue of whether such a series can give rise to ‘genuine’ change. For the reason that McTaggart concludes that the C-series is not temporal is that in the absence of an A-series, there would be no genuine change, and genuine change is necessary for an ordering to be temporal. Thus neither a C-series nor a B-series, absent an A-series, could count as a temporal series. Both B-theorists and C-theorists reject the claim that there can be no genuine change in the absence of an A-series, and Ingthorsson takes up this issue in chapter 7. There, he argues that McTaggart was right in at least the following way: the B-theory is incompatible with genuine change, since genuine change requires enduring objects—objects that are wholly present at each time they exist rather than being merely partly present as are perduring objects—and the B-theory cannot accommodate such objects.

The reason endurantism is suppose to be the only view of persistence that captures genuine change, is that it entails that persisting objects are numerically identical over time, so that one and the same object exists at multiple times, and at those times instantiates different properties. Thus persisting objects endure through changes, rather than change being a matter of persisting objects having parts with different properties at different times (as per perdurantism). The idea that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance, then, is an interesting (and important) claim, and one that it is worth further consideration. For if time does require genuine change, and if genuine change requires endurance, then McTaggart was right all along: if all events, objects, and properties exist (if eternalism is true) then there exists a C-series and perduring objects, but there does not exist any temporal ordering of the objects in the C-series.

Let’s set aside the issue of whether genuine change requires endurance, and whether, if it does, genuine change is, in turn, required for an ordering to be temporal. Instead, let’s just focus on Ingthorsson’s contention that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance.

Ingthorsson argues that endurance requires temporal passage at least in the sense that enduring things have to move from one time, to another. But there is no way for them to do that given the B-theory. Another way to put this is that what it is to be wholly present is to be entirely at one time, and to be nowhen else (that’s why enduring objects move, being first at one time, and later at another). But B-theorists are committed to what Ingthorsson calls the temporal parity thesis—the view that all objects events and properties that ever did, do, or will, exist, exist simpliciter (i.e. co-exist). (The temporal parity thesis is the view that is sometimes known as eternalism). If that thesis is true then enduring things co-exist with themselves at many times. So in what sense are said objects wholly present, given that each of them exists not only at the time in question, but also outside of it. Ingthorsson writes that

…the very idea of an enduring particular, in the sense I initially described it, is as of a three-dimensional thing that exists wholly and exclusively at one time at a time i.e. not multiply located in time any more than a football that crosses the pitch is multiply located at all points of it spatial trajectory. (McTaggart’s Paradox, 102)

The idea is that just as the football sweeps across the field, and is at no time at multiple places on the field (but rather, at each in succession) somehow the same ought be true of enduring objects.

It is worth noting that this argument, if it succeeds, succeeds against views that accept something weaker than the temporal parity thesis. It succeeds against any view that says that there exist a least two times t and t*, such that whatever objects, properties and events exist at t, and whatever objects, properties and events exist at t*, all of those objects, properties and events co-exist (i.e. exist simpliciter). Presentism denies even this weak thesis, but other non B-theoretic views such as the growing block and moving spotlight theories do accept that weaker thesis. If the argument succeeds, then, it shows that every view of temporal ontology is incompatible with endurance (and hence, perhaps, with genuine change and with temporal relations) aside from presentism.[9] That’s because Ingthorsson’s view about what it would take for an object to be wholly present, and hence to endure, requires that said object exists at only one time, and nowhen outside that time. But if any other times exist than the present one, then this would flout that requirement.

To be sure, if being wholly present means being at one time, and nowhere else, then it must be the case that endurance is incompatible with any view but presentism. But ought we think this is so? Of course, in the case of the moving football—what we might call the spatial case—what it is to move through space (very roughly, setting aside issues of relativity) is to exist at different spatial locations at different times. Hence at any one time one will see the football at a single position along its trajectory: we will see it at one place on the field, and at no other. But if one ‘sees’ all times, one will see that object at each location along its trajectory: that is, in fact, what a worldline is, in Minkowski space-time. So one sees a whole set of co-existing three-dimensional objects, each of which is the football at one time. Why should that be puzzling? Why should it show that the football is not, in any good sense, wholly present at each spatial location at which it is located at each time?  What is the sense in which the ball is wholly present at each of those locations, given that, quite clearly, it is present at more than just one location? It is the sense in which at each time, what exists is all of the ball—all of the three-dimensional object that is the ball, as opposed to there existing some three-dimensional object that is a mere part of the ball.

To be sure, what we see when we look at the full four-dimensional representation of the ball’s movement across the field is that the ball fills a four-dimensional region of space-time (namely its four-dimensional trajectory through space-time). But that doesn’t make the ball four-dimensional, since one way of accomplishing this filling of space-time is for the ball to endure, and to fill that region by being wholly located at each of the three-dimensional regions. The ball moves across the field, and it does so by existing at different places at different times, not by existing only at a single time, and by different times themselves existing sequentially.

Ingthorsson is aware of such a view, noting that, many contemporary endurantists (those who think persisting objects endure) think that endurance is compatible with the temporal parity thesis. Such endurantists hold that we should understand what it is to be wholly present in terms of a multi-location thesis spelled out in terms of different location relations that objects bear to regions of spacetime. [10]  To be sure, they say, the enduring ball is located at different times (all of which are equally real) but it endures nonetheless, since it is the very same, numerically identical, three-dimensional ball, that exists at each of those times.

Ingthorsson, however, thinks that such a view falls foul of the problem of temporary intrinsics. Does it? I don’t see why. If the ball is, indeed, multiply located then there is just one ball, located in many places. It doesn’t sweep through time, to be sure, but the entire ball is located at each time, and each such three-dimensional object is one and the same thing. That ball has a single complete set of properties—the properties that completely characterise the ball—which mention how it is at each of those times. One might worry, as Ingthorsson does, that this makes the instantiation of properties into disguised relations to times, since the ball must instantiate properties such as being dirty at one time, and being clean at another (let’s suppose the ball picks up dirt as it traverses the field). But it’s hard to feel the force of this worry, given the picture on offer. If it turns out that objects persist by being multiply located along the temporal axis, then they do so by bearing location relations to each of the three-dimensional regions they occupy. A single persisting ball bears a series of location relations to a series of such regions. But in that case one might expect that at each of such region, the ball will instantiate properties relative to that location. It’s not as if this is an ad hoc proposal borne of the need to reconcile change with Leibniz Law (a la the problem of temporary intrinsics); rather, it seems to be the natural thing to day for someone who endorses this picture. No doubt, however, there is much more to be said here, and McTaggart’s Paradox sews the seeds for such discussion.

Whatever one makes of the arguments, the book is a rich source of argumentation and discussion of a number of core issues in the philosophy of time, and for that reason is well worth a read.


Barbour, J. (1999). The End of Time.  Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Baron, S., Cusbert, J., Farr, M., Kon, M, & Miller, K (2015). Temporal Experience, Temporal Passage and the Cognitive Sciences. Philosophy Compass. 10 (8): 56—571.

Baron, S and K Miller (2015). “What is temporal error theory?” Philosophical Studies. 172 (9): 2427-2444.

Baron, S and K Miller (2014). “Causation in a timeless world”. Synthese. Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 2867-2886 DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0427-0.

Braddon-Mitchell, D (2013). Against the Illusion Theory of Temporal Phenomenology. CAPE studies in Applied Ethics volume 2  211-233.

Gilmore, C. (2014). «Location and Mereology», The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/location-mereology/>.

Eagle, A., (2010a). “Perdurance and Location”, in D. Zimmerman, ed., Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 5, pp. 53–94.

Hoerl, C. (2014). Do we (seem to) perceive passage? Philosophical Explorations, 17, 188–202.

Kutach, D. (2011). The Asymmetry of Influence. In Craig Callender (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press.

Latham, A. J. Holcombe. A. and K Miller (ms). “Temporal Phenomenology: Phenomenological Illusion vs Cognitive Error.”

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1908). The Unreality of Time. Mind, 17(68), 457–474.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1921). The Nature of Existence Vol 1. Cambridge, CUP.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1927). The Nature of Existence Vol 2. Cambridge, CUP.

Parsons, J.  (2007). “Theories of Location”, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 3., pp. 201–232.

Paul, L. A. (2010). Temporal experience. Journal of Philosophy, 107, 333–359.

Price, H. (1996). Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prosser, S. (2012). Why does time seem to pass? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 85, 92–116.

Torrengo, G. (forthcoming). “Feeling the passing of time”. The Journal of Philosophy.

[1] See Baron et al (2015) for an articulation of such arguments.

[2] See for instance Braddon-Mitchell (2013); Hoerl (2014); Torrengo (forthcoming) and Latham et al (ms).

[3] See for instance Latham et al (ms).

[4] See for instance Paul (2010); Prosser (2012).

[5] See for instance Price (1996) as an example of a C-theorist.

[6] See Barbour (1999); for philosophical discussion see Baron and Miller (2014 and 2015).

[7] See for instance Kutach (2011).

[8] See Barbour (1999).

[9] Ingthorsson uses the term ‘A-view’ to pick out presentism exclusively, and uses A/B hybrid to pick out other views that include an A-series, such as the growing block and moving spotlight view which hold that some non-present objects exist.

[10]See Parsons (2007); Gimore (2014) and Eagle (2010).

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