A Dunderhead’s Category of One
From Groundhog Days – Intercourse on Time
By Melina Costello & David Arthur Walters
Saturday, July 28, 2004
I enjoyed exceedingly to this particular portion of your agreeable response to my letter on McTaggart’s Unreality of Time:
“I couldn’t agree with you more, but even though I agree, the argument you put forth makes McTaggart somewhat of a dunderhead, and what are we to make of that? Is it possible to be brilliant and dunderheaded simultaneously?”
I have given the subject more thought even though thinking about time seems to be a waste of time. A Man’s Intuition tells me that McTaggart’s mystical predilection disposed him to find his tautological conclusion (“Time is unreal”) in his premise (“Time is unreal”). The fundamental presumption or aim of mysticism is Unity. Say, the unity of God and World including its inhabitants; to wit: ONE.
Deists insist that such a unity is no unity at all, but is perverse pantheism because the deity is identified with the time-space multiplicity of finite things; but as deists they are in fact dualists who would divorce a personal God from Her creation, and that gives us due cause to think they love the world more than they would admit in their profession of love for God.
The mystic wants to identify with ONE, whether that be Being or Nothing. God versus World (including humankind) is a psychological projection of Individual versus World, or Subject versus Object. He posits the identity of perceiving subject and perceived object, and calls that identity Reality or ONE. Such identity presumably precludes the time-space continuum from the ultimate Reality. Hence McTaggart, following the traditional mystical path, posits, “Time is unreal.” All else besides Reality is illusion, or, as the Hindus say, maya.
But we must beware of the semantic traps, and not try to leap through brick walls, or off cliffs to gain the universe but lose oneself. For all practical intents and purposes, those walls are real; that is, if you wish, real illusions. Please note here that McTaggart’s need to make the real/unreal dichotomy is representative of the traditional “knee-jerk” either/or evaluation, which ironically separates him from the ONE.
Wherefore it would seem that McTaggart had a single a priori (prior to illusory experience) category; to wit: Being; which is to say, on the other hand, Nothing. As brilliant as he was, he was, in my opinion, confused in respect to this ultimate object of thought because, wrapped up in his subjectivity, he had confused subject and object.
Further, his logic in relation to reality is Aristotelian, and is not up to date with the revolutionary scientific thought of his time, for which his protégé, Bertrand Russell, broke ground. Ironically, mystically inclined McTaggart might have been better off resorting to the dynamic logic of modern science rather than reverting so often to the static classical logic to make his points; in doing so, he actually defeated his “mystical” processes, some of which are now upheld by modern or postmodern science.
Lost in thought, McTaggart, ignoring the limitations of abstractions, prejudiced to find the conclusion already embedded in his premise, that time is unreal, became preoccupied with mere abstractions, and wound up confusing symbols with the realities for which they should stand. In essence, he actually denied the reality of our perceptions of the world, and, in doing so, it follows that he unwittingly denied that language can have any meaning at all. Hence, to be facetious, we might logically conclude that everything he said in respect to Reality was quite meaningless, and that we can safely ignore his statements. After all, his a priori is… Nothing.
Further, as to his logical proof of Nothing, he not only confused subject and object, and symbol and reality, but he confused objects of thought with predicates, in holding that past, present, future, which are predicates of time, are identical with the object of thought or idea he speaks of, namely, time. That is, he relied on the so-called law of identity, the claim that object and predicate are identical – – I mean the “is” of identity.
Even an equality statement such as 2+2=4, which means 4=4, implies a minimal, formal difference necessary to make the statement. But ‘is’ does not necessarily mean ‘equal.’
Past is not equal to time nor is the past time: the past is a predicate or what can be said of time. Time, moreover, is an adjective referring to motion, and is, loosely speaking, adverbial. The past simply refers to a past time, and the past time of existence of an object does not contradict time simply because time has other indexes – present and future. Again, the tenses are predicates or indexes of time. Similarly, in dating, we have Me in 1960, Me in 1980 – Me is not the date: the date is a predicate, or what can be said about Me, that I lived in 1960, 1980 (etc).
I propose that our language necessarily refers to the world in order to be meaningful, for as subjects we have only the objective world in common to compare. Following Adam Smith’s thinking, although the names of all objects of thoughts are nouns, dunderheads might primitively divide language into nouns, and adjectives, some of which refer to static qualities of things, others to dynamic qualities (verbs) of things. Things absent qualities, the things in themselves, the unique coincidences of universals we conceive of, are essentially unknown.
Again, the word ‘time’ refers to our contrived conceptions of motion. The word may be a noun referring to an object of thought or idea, but it is really not a “thing” or a substance in itself, despite all the books written about it as if the ideal were “real” in the concrete rather than the abstract sense. To identify the notion of time is to idealize it, to make an ideal “real” – – the great mistake of Plato.
‘Time’ is a word referring to the human experience of duration and change, and the comparative measurement of processes, such as the uniform movement of a clock against other events.. Adverbial time refers to our descriptions and understandings of processes: “He walked swiftly. He walked five miles in an hour.”
Again, McTaggart has Nothing or Being for his a priori. Now he was familiar with Kant. We know Kant defined time and space as categories prior to prior to perception, upon which the illusory intuition, or perception of sensed things by a unity of consciousness, depended , perception being illusory because the things-in-themselves can never be known. In fine, The Thingie is unknown, is The Unknown, or, if you will, the Supreme Being.
Persons who styled themselves “transcendentalists”, especially the New England Transcendentalists in America, mistook Kant’s effusions about intuition and a priori categories as an argument for direct individual access to God; that is, for non-sensory, spiritual intuition of the Supreme Being. But Kant warned us about the faults inherent in reasoning divorced from experience, the sort of abstract reasoning based on mystical, wish-fulfilling prejudices. The further one strays from “worldly” experience with abstractions, the more illusory the transcendental logic becomes. Logical systems of thought are designed to prove or to demonstrate that certain arguments are false; that is obviously a handy tool to own whenever the falsity has a direct bearing on practical life. However, systems of logic do not prove that any proposition, no matter how logical, is true to any other reality than that of the particular abstract logical system itself. Hence Kant warned us to beware, lest we get lost in thought, that transcendental logic is illusory, lest we leap to absurd conclusions. Mind thee that faith for Kant was a practical presumption, with attendant ethical-moral duties.
Finally, I propose that we are all dunderheads when it comes to the ONE, and, for that matter, the Many. But if we are to know anything at all, we must have more than one, or many.
I will regretfully leave off here, as I believe I have made myself perfectly clear.
Your Devoted Groundhog