Philosophy John McTaggart
Emily Thomas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0187


Cambridge philosopher J. M. E. McTaggart (b. 1866–d. 1925) was a major proponent of British idealism. Today, he is especially remembered for his argument against the unreality of time. McTaggart’s broader metaphysical system, delivered in his two-volume The Nature of Existence, argued for a personal idealism on which the universe comprises many minds and their perceptions. McTaggart produced lengthy critiques of Hegel’s philosophy, and his system borrows from Hegel, but the final result is uniquely his own. McTaggart wrote on many other topics too, including the philosophy of religion, love, and ethics. Although he belonged to the British idealist school, McTaggart enjoyed close relationships with several Cambridge “new realists”—his pupils included Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and C. D. Broad. Most of the scholarship on McTaggart concerns his views on time, but several studies also cover his idealism and other aspects of his thought.

General Overviews

For relatively concise, historically contextualized introductions to McTaggart’s philosophy as a whole, see Passmore 1957 and Mander 2011. Dedicated studies of McTaggart include Broad 1933, an early and comprehensive critique; Geach 1979, which is more recent and more sympathetic; and, most recently, Sharma 2015, which defends aspects of McTaggart’s system.

  • Broad, C. D. An Examination of McTaggart’s Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1933.

    After McTaggart’s death, Broad edited and published the second volume of McTaggart’s The Nature of Existence. Broad’s familiarity with McTaggart’s system is reflected in his precise, step-by-step construction of McTaggart’s argument for idealism. Broad particularly critiques the notions of substance, determining correspondence, and unity.

  • Geach, Peter Thomas. Truth, Love, and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart’s Philosophy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

    Provides an extremely clear and sympathetic study of McTaggart’s system. Although it is titled an “introduction,” the book is too advanced for this description to be accurate. Geach focuses on McTaggart’s metaphysics, particularly considering McTaggart’s understanding of substance, selves, matter, and time. Geach’s discussion of McTaggart’s argument against the reality of matter is particularly illuminating; he also notes the Leibnizian flavor of McTaggart’s idealism.

  • Mander, W. J. British Idealism: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199559299.001.0001

    This mammoth, comprehensive history of British idealism places McTaggart in his context as a personal idealist, showing how his views differed from his contemporaries and summarizing his philosophy as a whole. See pp. 357–375.

  • Passmore, John. A Hundred Years of Philosophy. London: Gerald Duckworth, 1957.

    This classic history of the period places McTaggart in the context of British idealism. Passmore argues that McTaggart’s personal idealism is of a wholly different type than that of other personal idealists, such as Seth Pringle-Pattison. He summarizes McTaggart’s arguments on time and idealism. See pp. 75–81.

  • Sharma, Ramesh K. J. M. E. McTaggart: Substance, Self, and Immortality. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2015.

    Sharma’s wide-ranging exploration of McTaggart’s work considers existence and reality, substance, matter, idealism, the self, the Absolute, perception, and God. Sharma also defends various aspects of McTaggart’s system.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.