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The truth-maker principle insists that if a sentence is true of the world, then something in the world makes it true. This seems to be common sense and is treated by many philosophers as bedrock, as obviously correct in some sense. But there is a well-known challenge to the principle that was already raised in one form by Aristotle. Suppose that the sentence “Princess Diana died in a car crash” is true.What makes it true? What is the truth-maker for this sentence?

We want to say that the sentence is true because the crash really happened; metal did smash into concrete. But this event occurred in the past. If the past is gone completely, and does not now exist in any way, what makes it true that the crash did occur? Is it our present memories, or the traces of paint still left on the underpass in Paris? This cannot be correct, because Princess Diana would still be dead even if she was forgotten and the underpass scoured clean.

The general problem of statements about the past and the future, and what makes them true or false, is deeply puzzling. There is no consensus among philosophers about their truth-makers; some even doubt whether such statements could be true or false. Perhaps it is not true now that Princess Diana died in the past? For some philosophers, however, this problem leads them to suppose that the past (and the future?) has some form of “existence”. The event of Princess Diana’s death does “exist” in some sense, and this past event is the missing truth-maker. These philosophers debate the kind of existence that past events might have, but generally suppose it to be a paler, ghostly existence: more “abstract” and less robust than present events.

In his attack on time, McTaggart seemed to take it for granted that past and future events have some sort of existence, and perhaps the truth of statements about the past persuaded him that this was obvious. Thus he speaks as if all events “have positions in time” even when they are far in the past or future. To have a position or any property requires that events exist in some sense. Given this fundamental assumption, he sets to work abolishing time.


Since all events have positions in time, what makes some events earlier or past, and others later or future? McTaggart says there are only two ways of accounting for the order of events in time. Perhaps events are linked by relations into long chains, and these relations make some events earlier and some events later. Thus the marriage of Diana is earlier than her death because there is a relation between the two events that fixes their order. Since the marriage is always earlier than her death, the relation between them is permanent. McTaggart calls the long chain of events linked together by permanent relations a B-series. Although he does not use the term, this B-series is very similar to the block universe discussed above (this is easy to remember since both begin with B). In both, events are static points locked into their positions in space and time, and there is no real change or becoming.

On the other hand, McTaggart says, perhaps there are no such relations, and events simply have the special properties of “being past”, “being now” or “being future” (i.e. P, N, and F). Diana’s death is earlier than now simply because it is past, or it has past-ness. The passage of time just is the shifting and changing of these properties. An event that begins with the property of being in the future, fleetingly becomes present, and then has the property of being past. The event of Diana’s death never changes – the car always crashes – but its temporal property shifts and changes. McTaggart calls such a collection of events with P, N, and F properties an A-series.

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