J.M.E. Mctaggart: Substance, Self, and Immortality
By: Ramesh K Sharma
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The book then unfolds McTaggart's treatment of the main themes, by guiding the reader through the labyrinths of McTaggart's intricate arguments, and attempts to defend many of McTaggart's highly unorthodox doctrines and conclusions against onslaughts of various sorts. Unlike two previous important expositions (C.D. Broad's and Peter Geach's), this book draws on McTaggart's all major writings, including his Hegelian studies, to provide a comprehensive exposition of his overall theory of reality. The work first dwells upon such perennial metaphysical subjects as reality, existence, possibility, the basic ontological categories of substance, qualities and relations (universals). McTaggart's doctrine of the 'nature' of Substance is discussed in terms of a number of his 'necessary' principles and doctrines, some of which constitute, in the author's words, McTaggart's 'criterion of reality or substancehood'.
After this comes a consideration of McTaggart's highly ingenious argument, in terms of the said 'reality criterion', to reject the reality of two ostensibly known existents - matter and sense-data -, followed by a discussion of McTaggart's equally important argument that the third known existent, spirit - selves and their experiences - alone is real substance, which claim clears the way for McTaggart's metaphysical or 'ontological' idealism. After noting the main distinctive features of McTaggart's idealism by comparing it with the idealisms of Berkeley, Hegel, and Leibniz, it is argued that among these three, despite pronounced differences, it is with Leibniz's idealism that the affinity of McTaggart's seems comparatively most marked. McTaggart's metaphysical argument for the self (spirit) is then supplemented by his empirical argument - discussion of which involves McTaggart's unconventional refutation of the Humean position, his rejection of Bradley's denial of self and dismissal of any physicalist account.
After a critique of some of the modern-day theories which propound mind-brain identity, the question of self and its relation to consciousness and self-consciousness is examined, culminating in an emphasis on, besides the subjectivity of the self, that of the body. Throughout the author maintains that several of McTaggart's claims about substance and self and the many related issues are not only valid but impressive, and so are of great relevance to current discussions on these themes than most philosophers have cared to investigate. Since McTaggart's advocacy of the fundamental reality of the individual self involves the question of the relation of the self to the universe - or the Absolute - the problem of selves-Absolute relation as conceived by McTaggart, whether on the supposedly Hegelian terms or independently in his The Nature of Existence, is examined, and McTaggart's unique contribution in this regard emphasized.
In this context, a fresh look is taken on the pluralism-monism debate as also the pluralism of of McTaggart's thought, leading the author to conclude that since McTaggart's selves, unlike Leibniz's monads, are most intimately related to each other through perception (and love), his so-called (fundamental) pluralism turns out to be unseverably wedded to the unity called the universe or Absolute, and so can in no way be dismissed as (windowless) monadism. The further important question whether the Absolute or universe admits of being treated as God - as it is conceived in the Judeo-Christian tradition (and even in some Hindu systems) - is discussed both in terms of McTaggart's special metaphysical principles and on independent grounds, all of which leads to McTaggart's rejection of the existence of a (theistic) God.
Finally the philosophically challenging issue of human immortality is discussed with reference to McTaggart's special doctrines of pre-existence, plurality of lives and reincarnation, which all go to make McTaggart not only a unique Western thinker in that he combines disbelief in God with belief in the immortality of the (human) self, but also the only thinker after Plato in the (Western) tradition who espouses reincarnation. This is followed by a discussion of the significant affinity that presumably exists between McTaggart's above doctrines and the Indian theory of Karma (action) and rebirth. The final chapter is concerned with McTaggart's theory of perception for the important reason that in McTaggart's view all of a self's experiences reduce to perceptions.
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