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Based on what?
McTaggart & Hegel go to China, together they find the true meaning of Christmas.
That the universe is rational requires we account for an infinite regress; that this caused that, then all this followed—but what caused that? And so on, ad infinitum. This is a problem for Hegel, that he thought all that was real was rational. Yet taking time, for instance, as McTaggart did, we soon encounter a problem. For Hegel the real was a total synthesis, all contradiction redeemed as rational by its unity in ever-higher ideal planes; and then, the Absolute Idea.
Russell says Hegel had early on a mystical experience of wholeness. Of this I have no doubt, it is a common enough vision. Yet this piece seems crucial in understanding his philosophy. He sought to realise this image by the dialectic of human reason in its progress towards total synthesis. Each contradiction, apparently irrational, carried within itself the seeds of higher synthesis; ultimately all would be unified in the inevitable movement of logic.
But McTaggart has stumbled upon Kierkegaard’s criticism: that to build his perfect system, Hegel had abstracted away everything else—including himself. Yet it is only through the embodied self that change and movement are grounded; none of this is found in the dead objects of logic. This is the A series understanding of time as ordered of future, present, past; as compared to the B series, from earlier to later. The latter is objective and yet fails to capture change: what is once earlier is always earlier, and so on.
The A series allows for change by its including the present, thus it anchors its categories in immediacy of embodied experience. But with this, McTaggart encounters trouble: the A series is internally contradictory, where might there be some higher synthesis? Here he would later posit the C series, that which is not an A or B series but might appear as such. The C series is essentially unthinkable, or we might fruitfully interpret it as such. Here McTaggart seems to break with Hegel.
Earlier, in Studies in the Hegelian Logic, McTaggart basically concludes that all that was real may not be quite rational. He inquires as to the possible mix of this, trying to construct reality as some mix of order and disorder. Here he gestures, apparently without realising, towards a well-established concept: the dualism of yin and yang. The image commonly used to illustrate this is perfectly Hegelian—opposites eternally unified in a higher synthesis.
Yet the constituents here are not classical concepts but rationality and irrationality as metaphysical categories. This thus allows thought one step further past its apparent limit. But of course, it can go no further: hence McTaggart’s C series which can be decomposed but never comprehended. We may know this, as A and B series, and we may posit its existence; it is itself inexpressible—or rather, we may only gesture at it. And yet we might find this is true of all ideas, indeed that it is a basic condition of thought.
We refer to ideas as if they were objects and containers when, of course, they are neither—then what are they? We take them to be objects and containers, understand them on this basis. The idea is typically that we think this because they are intrinsically similar to objects and containers. Our metaphor expresses this prior similarity. This presupposes, therefore, the prior and objective identity of the object at hand.
But is, for instance, the sky an object? The boundaries here are necessarily imposed by our own minds, determined by our perspective. Yet we grasp the sky as a whole, beyond our immediate vision; it is taken as a unity, as an object. Where does the sky end, where does it begin? The line between atmosphere and outer space is more or less arbitrary. Surely there is no true object here, no container! Yet still we ask: what’s that in the sky?
We speak as if because it is useful to pretend as much; to act as if, say, the sky were a container. We might instead think of thought as gesture—or we might reasonably think of it as magic, that by which with spells cast by hand and mouth we summon forth form from chaos. This allows us to create knowledge and pass it, as if an object, to another; intersubjectivity is enacted as psychodrama. At bottom, in other words, all is based on magic and imagination.