C. D. Broad, Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, 1933



McTaggart's account of ostensibly mental particulars is interesting and important on its own account, quite apart from its position in his system of philosophy. It is logically independent of his characteristic doctrines of the Endless Divisibility of Particulars, the Principle of Determining Correspondence, and the Unreality of Time. Therefore it seems best to begin with this topic.

There are two kinds of ostensibly mental particulars, viz., ostensible Minds or Selves and ostensible Experiences. I shall devote this chapter and its four successors to McTaggart's psychological analysis and classification of ostensible experiences, and I shall consider his account of ostensible selfhood and ostensible self-consciousness in Chap. XXX.

The familiar tripartite division classifies ostensible experiences into ostensible cognitions, ostensible conations, and ostensibly affective states. We shall find that McTaggart would regard this as a cross-division. For, on his view, all kinds of ostensible experiences, whatever else they may be, are also and fundamentally cognitive. For the present we will set aside the other ostensible kinds of experiences, and will confine ourselves to those which are ostensibly cognitive. McTaggart calls all these "Cogitations", and he confines the name "Cognition" to a certain sub-class of cogitations. (Nature of Existence, Chap. XXXVII.)

1. Classification of Ostensible Cogitations.

Among ostensibly cogitative experiences McTaggart distinguishes

  1. ostensible prehensions of particulars, i.e. "Perceptions", in his sense;
  2. ostensible states of acquaintance with characteristics;
  3. ostensible judgings;
  4. ostensible supposings, or, as he calls them, "Assumptions", i.e., what Meinong called Annahmen, and
  5. ostensible imagings.
(I use the word "judging" in preferenee to McTaggart's word "judgment" to make it perfectly clear that it is the name of an experience and not of a proposition.) McTaggart groups together ostensible prehensions of particulars and ostensible states of acquaintance with characteristics under the head of "Awarenesses". He groups together ostensible awarenesses and ostensible judgings under the name of "Cognitions". So his classification of Ostensible Cogitations may be summarised in the table below:

Ostensible Cogitations
Ostensible Cognitions Ostensible Supposings Ostensible Imagings
Ostensible Awarenesses Ostensible Judgings
Ostensible Prehensions Ostensible Awarenesses
of characteristics

I think we may assume that McTaggart regarded this classification as an exhaustive sub-division into mutually exclusive sub-classes. I am very doubtful whether it fulfils either condition. It will be best, however, to defer discussion of this question until we have seen exactly what McTaggart means by the various items in his list.

We have already seen what McTaggart means by "Perceptions", and why it seems desirable to substitute the name "Prehensions" for them. There is no difficulty in understanding what McTaggart means by "Awareness of characteristics". An instance of it would be the idea of redness which is occurring in a normal man's mind when he is judging or supposing that so-and-so is red, and is not using the word "red" descriptively, e.g., as an abbreviation for "the colour that normal people are aware of when light of a certain wave-length affects their eyes". A man born blind could not have "awareness", in McTaggart's sense, of any colour-quality, a normal man could, and presumably often does have awareness of such qualities. Again, there is no mystery about what McTaggart means by "Judgings" and "Supposings". Judging is believing or disbelieving propositions with more or less conviction. And we are told in § 421 that the internal structure of a supposing is the same as that of a judging; the only difference is that a judging is an asserting, whilst a supposing is not. I think that the difference may be expressed more satisfactorily as follows. A man may suppose what is true or suppose what is false, just as he may judge truly or judge falsely. But, if he judges falsely he will be deceived or mistaken; whilst he may suppose what is false without being deceived or mistaken.

The one item in McTaggart's list which is not obvious in meaning is "Imaging". McTaggart discusses this in §§ 422 to 424, inclusive. The discussion seems to me to be highly confused, and we must clear this matter up before going further.

1.1. McTaggart's Account of "Imaging". We must first see what McTaggart intends the word "imaging" to cover. He says that he can image a red disc on a white ground, though he is not seeing one. He can image toothache as being felt by him at a time when he is not in fact feeling toothache. He can image Cromwell's distrust for Charles I (which presumably did exist), and he can equally image Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender (which certainly did not exist). All these are given as examples of imaging. And what is imaged in each case is to be called an "Imaginatum".

McTaggart deliberately refuses to use the word "imagining", because it is so very ambiguous. It is sometimes used as equivalent to "believing falsely", as when we say of a lunatic that he imagines himself to be Napoleon. Again, it is sometimes used to mean "supposing, and working out the consequences of the supposition". An example would be imagining what one would have done if one had been Mr Lloyd George at the Versailles Conference. In such cases of "imagining" there need be no "imaging", though it is very likely that there will be some. On the other hand, there could be "imaging" without "imagining" in either of these senses. Suppose that I image a certain cat, and remember that I stroked that cat yesterday. Then I should not say that I am "imagining" the cat.

According to McTaggart, imagings resemble prehensions and differ from judgings and supposings in the following respect. An imaginatum, like a prehensum, is always a particular: and it is always imaged as having certain characteristics, just as a prehensum is always prehended as having certain characteristics. But imaging is not discursive, as judging and supposing are. We should not say: "I image that this has the charaeteristic C"; but we should say: "I judge that (or I suppose that) this has C."

There is, however, on McTaggart's view, a certain respect in which imaging resembles supposing and differs from both prehending and judging. If I prehend S as having P or judge that S has P, I am mistaken unless S does in fact have P. But, if I image S as having P, I need not be mistaken even though S in fact does not have P. Similarly, if I suppose that S has P, I need not be mistaken even though S in fact does not have P.

The next point which McTaggart makes about imaging is that we can image only such things as we could prehend, viz., sensa such as we sense and experiences such as we introspect. We do indeed talk as if we sometimes image material objects and physieal events; though, if McTaggart is right, we could not possibly prehend such objects even if there were any such. We might, e.g., talk of "imaging the destruction of Westminster Abbey by hostile aircraft"; yet, on McTaggart's view, even a person who had the sort of experience which he would describe as "actually witnessing" this event would be prehending, not it, but only certain visual and auditory sensa. McTaggart holds that the correct statement would be: "I am imaging sensa of such a kind that anyone who was actually sensing them would properly be said to be witnessing the destruction of Westminster Abbey by hostile aircraft ".

In § 423 MeTaggart mentions a certain apparent difficulty in connexion with imaging, and in § 424 he professes to solve it. The difficulty and the solution throw some further light on hls notion of imaging.

The difficulty is as follows. It is quite certain that, whenever I image, I image something. This something is called the "imaginatum" of this state of imaging, and it is certainly different from the imaging of which it is the object. Again, the imaginatum is always a particular, which is imaged as having such and such a characteristic. Now McTaggart has said that it is possible to image Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender, though Cromwell never had the experience of despising Charles Edward. What is the imaginatum of this state of imaging? If you say that it is a particular which has the characteristic of being an experience in Cromwell's mind of contempt for the Young Pretender, the answer is that there is no such particular. If you say that it is a particular which has not this characteristic, then every actual particular is in that position and it is difficult to see what claim any of them has to be regarded as the imaginatum of this imaging.

McTaggart's solution is the following. Really there are no imagings. Those experiences which are ostensibly imagings are really prehensions, which are introspectively misprehended as imagings. When I am ostensibly imaging Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender I am really prehending a certain actual particular, and I am misprehending it as being Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender. It cannot really have this characteristic, for no particular has it. Further, I am introspectively misprehending this misprehension of mine; for it appears to me on introspection as a state of imaging, which it is not, instead of appearing as a state of prehension, which it is. As McTaggart puts it, there is error in the experience and there is error about the experience. There would be this kind of error about the experience in every case of ostensible imaging, but there need not always be error in the experience. For the prehension which is introspectively misprehended as an imaging need not in all cases be itself a misprehension.

Now we shall see later that McTaggart thinks he can show that all other ostensible kinds of cogitation, e.g., judgings, supposings, etc., are really prehensions which are introspectively misprehended. But to prove this for each of them he has to use his own special principles of Endless Divisibility and Determining Correspondence. Ostensible imagings are unique in that McTaggart claims to show, without appeal to his own special principles, that they are introspectively misprehended prehensions. The argument here is that there is no other way of explaining how we can ostensibly image such imaginata as Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender.

Some further information about imaging is to be found in § 425 and in Chap. LVI, § 673 to the end. When one is ostensibly remembering, one is (a) imaging something, and (b) judging, rightly or wrongly, that one has prehended in the past the particular which one is imaging now, and that the characteristics which one now images it as having are those which one then prehended it as having. This is not a definition of " remembering ", for these two conditions might be fulfilled when one's judgment was based entirely on inference or on information from other people, and one would certainly not be said to be "remembering" in such circumstances. McTaggart does not profess to state positively what it is that distinguishes memory-judgments from other judgments which fulfil conditions (a) and (b).

Passing to Chap. LVI, we learn that an ostensible imaging may be a prehension of a particular which is, sub specie temporis, an event in the past or in the future. In remembering, one is prehending retrospectively, with more or less accuracy, an event which one prehended simultaneously when it was happening. In § 677 McTaggart throws out a very interesting suggestion. It is conceivable, he thinks, that we may ostensibly image events which, sub specie ternporis, we never have ostensibly prehended because they are still future. Our ostensible imaging of such events would be, sub specie temporis, an introspectively misprehended pre-prehension of an event which has not yet happened. In view of the fact that there is fairly good evidence that non-inferential precognitions sometimes happen (see Saltmarsh, "Report on Apparent Cases of Precognition", S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. XLII) this suggestion of McTaggart's becomes more than an idle speculation.

Can it be maintained that every imaging that I ever experience is, sub specie temporis, either (a) a post-prehension of some event which I have already simultaneously prehended, or (b) an introspectively misprehended simultaneous prehension of some present event, or (c) a pre-prehension of some event which I shall simultaneously prehend when it happens? In defence of this suggestion there are two points to be noted. (i) An imaging may in fact be a post-prehension of an event which I have already simultaneously prehended, and yet I may not know or believe that it is so. Thus our class (a) might include many imagings which are not associated with rememberings. (ii) The event which is post-prehended, or simultaneously prehended, or pre-prehended may, in either case, be grossly misprehended. Thus the fact that an imaginatum was extremely unlike anything that the imaging subject ever ostensibly prehends in the whole course of his history would not prove that the imaging could not fall into one of the three classes.

But, even when this is admitted, it is very diflicult to believe that my imaging of Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender is either a retrospective misprehension of some past event, or a simultaneous misprehension of some present event, or a prospective misprehension of some future event. McTaggart fully admits this, and in §§ 675 and 676 he puts forward an alternative account of such imagings. The alternative is as follows.

Very often ostensible imaging is preceded and conditioned by ostensible judging or supposing. If I am reading Roman history, I may judge that Caesar was murdered and I may then try to image his murder. If I am thinking about the Freneh Revolution, I may make the supposition that George III was guillotined in Berkeley Square and I may try to image this supposed event. Now it seems certain that, in such cases, the imaging is in some sense "based upon" certain memories. I may remember a picture of George III, on horseback and not being guillotined; I may remember Berkeley Square, as I last saw it, with taxi-cabs and no king or guillotine; and I may remember a guillotine which I have seen out of action at Madame Tussaud's. I tend to ignore those features in the remembered objects which are incompatible with the supposition in which I am interested at the time, and to concentrate on those features which are compatible with it.

Now these ostensible rememberings are really three different post-prehensions of three different objects. They would not appear as imagings at all unless they were to some extent misprehended introspectively. But this introspective mis-prehension may go so far that the three different post-prehensions of three different objects are prehended as a single imaging of a single complex imaginatum. This is what happens, according to McTaggart, when we succeed in ostensibly imaging George III being executed in Berkeley Square. If we do not introspectively misprehend our own post-prehensions to this extent, we succeed only in ostensibly imaging George III on horseback, Berkeley Square with taxi-cabs and no guillotine, and a guillotine in Madame Tussaud's, and recognising that certain features in each are irrelevant to the supposal which we are at present making.

On McTaggart's view then, if I succeed in ostensibly imaging George III's execution in Berkeley Square, I am not misprehending any actual particular as being the event which answers to this description. I am introspectively misprehending three of my own more or less correct post-prehensions to such an extent that I prehend them as a single imaging of a singIe complex event answering to this description.

1.11. Criticism of McTaggart's Account of Imaging. I think that the shortest and simplest way of criticising McTaggart's account of imaging is to begin by stating what seems to me to be the true account of it.

(i) Whatever else may be involved in imaging it certainly involves being acquainted with visual, auditory, or other images. Now these are particulars, and therefore acquaintance with them is prehension.

(ii) McTaggart does not give a name to the experience of prehending an image. It is important to notice that what he calls "imaging" is not just prehending an image, and that what he caIls an "imaginatum" is not a prehended image. He talks, e.g., of imaging sensa, and asserts that this is what we are really doing when we say that we are imaging physical events or material objects. (Cf. Nature of Existence, Vol. II, bottom of p. 107.)

(iii) When an image is prehended it is prehended as qualified in various ways, e.g., as squeaky, as red, as consisting of a red triangle in a blue circle, and so on. If I am asked to describe an image which I am prehending, I do so by means of judgments whose predicates are the characteristics which I prehend the image as having. I propose to call such judgements "inspective"; they are seldom made except by psychologists or others who are interested in images as such.

(iv) All that I have said so far about images and the prehension of them could be paralleled precisely about sensa and the sensing of them. The psychologist or the artist can make inspective judgments about the sensa which he senses; and the predicates of these judgments will be the characteristics which he prehends these sensa as having. Now, when a person senses a sensum, this experience is often an essential factor in an altogether different and much more complicated experience which I will call "ostensibly perceiving a physical event or a material thing". To use the happy expression of Prof. Price he "perceptually accepts" the sensum as a certain physical event or as a part of the surface of a certain material thing. The event is taken to be happening now, and the material thing is taken to be now existing and present to his senses. If he makes a judgment corresponding to this experience of perceptual acceptance) it will not be an inspective judgment. It will be of the form: "That is a flash of lightning", "That is a penny", "That is a clap of thunder", and so on. These may be called "perceptual judgments". McTaggart does not distinguish between perceptual acceptance and perceptual judgments; but he is quite clear that ostensible perception of physical events and material things, i.e., ostensible sense-perception, is not prehension, and is therefore not "perception" in his sense of the word. Perceptual acceptance may be erroneous, either in detail or in principle; but, if it is, the error does not consist in misprehending the characteristics of a particular which one is prehending.

(v) Now McTaggart does not explicitly draw a similar distinction between prehending an image and taking it as an image of so-and-so. This distinction is certainly implicit in the fact that the imaginatum is not the prehended image. But McTaggart fails to follow this clue, and this is the source of his difficulties about imaging Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender. He seems to be constantly hovering round the point, especially in § 675 and 676, but never quite reaching it.

I may just prehend an image without taking it to be an image of anything. This is probably much more frequent than sensing a sensum without perceptually accepting it as a physical event or z part of a material object. On the other hand, unless I am in a very confused state and mistake the image for a sensum, I never perceptually accept it as a present physical event or as a part of a material object which is now present to my senses.

Sometimes, when I prehend an image I take it to be an image of a certain past experience of mine. The image can then be called an "ostensible memory-image". If I make a judgment corresponding to this present experience, it will be of the form: "I had such and such an experience in the past ." This is an "ostensible memory-judgment " . Such judgments may be true or false; but they are certainly not inspective judgments, and, if they are false, it is not because I have prehended a particular and misprehended its characteristics.

(vi) As McTaggart points out, I am often caused to prehend a certain image by the fact that I have previously made a certain judgment or supposition. I can, e.g., make the supposition that Westminster Abbey will be destroyed by hostile aircraft. If I have seen the Abbey and aeroplanes and bombing-practice, I can, provided I am a good visualiser, thereupon prehend a complex image, with regard to which I judge that it resembles fairly closely the sensa which a man would sense if he were witnessing such an event as I am supposing to take place.

There is no question here of a particular being prehended as having characteristics which no particular has. There are the following four items.

  1. a certain complex image which I am prehending;
  2. my experience of prehending it;
  3. my experience of supposing that the Abbey will be destroyed by hostile aircraft; and
  4. my experience of believing that this image resembles the sensum which a man would sense if he witnessed such an event as I am supposing.
So far as I can see, there is no reason to hold that I am prehending a certain particular and misprehending it as being the destruction of the Abbey by hostile aircraft. No difficulty seems to be raised here which is not raised by the existence of suppositions that are not in accordance with fact.

What are we to say about imaging Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender? It is plain that the initial factor here is the experience of supposing that Cromwell had been contemporary with Charles Edward, had met him, and had felt contempt for him. If I have seen pictures of Cromwell and of the Young Pretender, and am a good visualiser, this state of supposing may bring about a state of prehending a certain complex image which I believe to resemble the sensum that a person would have sensed if he had seen a man like Cromwell turning up his nose at a man like Charles Edward. In addition I may have a faint feeling which I judge to resemble feelings that I had when I was regarding someone with contempt, and I may believe that Cromwell would have had this kind of feeling if he had been regarding someone with contempt. In all this there need be no misprehension, either introspective or non-introspective, and there need be no false judgment.

(vii) To sum up. Ostensible imaging, in McTaggart's sense of the word, certainly involves prehension of a particular, viz., an image, just as ostensible sense-perception involves prehension of a particular, viz., a sensum. But, even when what is imaged is the destruction of Westminster Abbey or Cromwell's contempt for the Young Pretender, there is no reason to hold that this particular is misprehended. It is prehended simply as a certain arrangement of coloured images, which it is; and not as the destruction of the Abbey or as Cromwell's contempt, which it is not and is never even thought to be.

Just as ostensible sense-perception involves something beside prehending a sensum, so ostensible imaging involves something beside prehending an image. It involves a judgment, or quasi-judgment, about the image; viz., that it resembles the sensa that a normal man would sense if certain supposed conditions were fulfilled. This judgment may or may not be correct; but it is not rendered false by the fact that the supposed conditions are not fulfilled. The total experience is initiated and sustained by a supposition; but this, from the nature of the case, is neither correct nor incorrect. Thus there need be no error in the experience of imaging the destruction of the Abbey or Cromwell's contempt, in spite of the fact that the Abbey has not been destroyed and that Cromwell never felt contempt for the Young Pretender.

Again, it has not been proved that there must be introspective misprehension of the experience in order that it may appear as an imaging. The prehension of the image appears on introspection as a prehension; the supposition about Cromwell or the Abbey appears on introspection as a supposition; and the judgment about the image appears on introspection as a judgment. It is true that McTaggart claims to show that ostensible suppositions and ostensible judgings are introspectively misprehended prehensions. But, in order to do this, he has to appeal to his own special principles of Endless Divisibility and Determining Correspondence. Now he claimed to prove that ostensible imagings are introspectively misprehended prehensions without appeal to these special principles. This claim is evidently baseless; it rests on nothing but imperfect analysis of the experience of ostensible imaging.

A fortiori we may dismiss as baseless McTaggart's fantastic theory that, when I succeed in ostensibly imaging George III's execution in Berkeley Square, I am introspectively misprehending three of my own more or less correct post-prehensions to such an extent that I prehend them as a single imaging of a single complex event answering to this description. This theory was suggested only as a more tolerable alternative to the theory that I am misprehending some actual particular as being an event of this description. The analysis of imaging which I have given shows that we have no occasion to make a choice between these two alternatives.

1.2. Criticism of McTaggart's Classificatzon. We are now in a position to consider whether McTaggart's classification of ostensible cogitations is exhaustive, and whether its divisions are mutually exclusive.

(i) It will be noticed that sense-perception does not appear as an entry in the list. McTaggart would, no doubt, say that ostensible sense-perception is found on analysis to be composed of ostensible prehension of sensa and ostensible judgments about physical events or material things founded upon such prehensions. If this be admitted, I would make the following criticism. Either ostensible sense-perception should be put in or ostensible imaging should be left out. For we have seen that ostensible imaging is analysable into prehension of images and certain suppositions and judgings. Since MeTaggart failed to make this analysis, it was consistent for him to inolude imaging and omit sense-perception. But it would not be consistent for us to do so.

(ii) There is no entry in the list for experience of Knowing. Possibly MeTaggart regarded knowing as a species of judging. If so, I am fairly certain that he was mistaken. I would suggest that knowing is being aequainted with facts, and that it should therefore be entered as a third item along with prehension of particulars and awareness of characteristics.

I would therefore suggest the following classification of ostensible cogitations as an alternative to McTaggart's. I would first divide them into Ostensible Intuitions and Ostensible Discursions. Then I would divide the ostensibly discursive cogitations into Ostensible Judgings and Ostensible Supposings. And I would divide the ostensibly intuitive cogitations into Intuitions of particulars (Ostensible Prehensions), Intuitions of characteristics (Ostensible Awarenesses), and Intuitions of facts (Ostensible Knowings). Finally, I would class together as Ostensible Cognitions the four items Ostensible Prehensions, Ostensible Awarenesses, Ostensible Knowings, and Ostensible Judgings. The proposed classification is exhibited in the table given below:

Ostensible Cogitations
Ostensible Intuitions Ostensible Discursions
Of particulars Of characteristics Of facts Ostensible Judgings Ostensible Supposings
Ostensible Prehensions Ostensible Awarenesses Ostensible Knowings
Ostensible Cognitions