Propositions and Propositional Attitudes

April 6, 2012
Institut d'Etude de la Cognition at Ecole Normale Supérieure, Institut Jean Nicod

Salle de Réunion, Pavillon-Jardin (ground floor)
29 rue d'Ulm
Paris 75005


  • "New Ideas in the Philosophy of Mind and Language" (IEC)


Peter Hanks
University of Minnesota
Richard Holton
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
François Recanati
Institut Jean Nicod
Mark Richard
Harvard University


Marie Guillot
Institut Jean Nicod
François Recanati
Institut Jean Nicod

Topic areas

Talks at this conference

Add a talk


The research team "Context-Dependence, Perspective and Relativity" at Institut Jean Nicod (Institut d'Etude de la Cognition) is pleased to announce the workshop:

Propositions and Propositional Attitudes


10.00 - 11.15: Richard Holton (MIT), "Facts. Factive and Contra-Factives"

11.15 - 11.30: Coffee break

11.30 - 12.45: François Recanati (IJN), "Attitude Ascriptions and Opacity"

12.45 - 14.30: Lunch break

14.30 - 15.45: Peter Hanks (University of Minnesota), "First-Person Propositions"

15.45 - 16.00: Coffee break

16:00 - 17.15: Mark Richard (Harvard University), "How Must Propositions Be?"

Format: Talks will last for 45 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of discussion.


Peter Hanks, "First-Person Propositions" A first-person proposition is a proposition that is accessible to only a single subject, in the sense that only that subject can judge or assert that proposition. Many philosophers are skeptical about first-person propositions, despite the fact that they would solve problems about de se belief. Here I show how to make sense of first-person propositions without relying on first-person Fregean senses or anything else in the vicinity, such as individual essences or haecceities. The view is a development of the more general idea that propositions are types of spoken and mental actions. On this account, first-person propositions are certain types of actions we perform when we make utterances using the first-person pronoun 'I'.

Richard Holton, "Facts. Factive and Contra-Factives" Frege begins his discussion of factives in "On Sense and Reference" with an example of a purported contra-factive, i.e. a verb that entails the falsity of the complement sentence. But the verb he cites, 'wähnen', is now obsolete, and native speakers are sceptical about whether it really was a contra-factive. Despite the profusion of factive verbs, there are no clear examples of contra-factive propositional attitude verbs in English, French or German (or indeed any other Indo-European languages). Where one would expect to find them one finds verbs that don’t take sentential complements ('refute'; 'delude'; 'mistake'; 'hallucinate') or that don’t require the falsity of the complement ('pretend'; 'wish'). One finds that one cannot even add negating prefixes to propositional attitude factives to obtain contra-factives, not even when the same prefixes can be affixed to related constructions taking NP-clauses ('proved'/'disproved'). This paper attempts to give an explanation of why there are no contra-factives, and to use this to shed light on the behaviour of factives more generally. The suggestion is that factive propositional attitude verbs take facts, not propositions, as the referents of their complement sentences; and that as there are no contra-facts (merely false propositions), there can be no contra-factives. This claim is then used to help explain Timothy Williamson’s observation that knowledge is the weakest stative propositional attitude factive.  

François Recanati, "Attitude Ascriptions and Opacity"
A referential expression is (normally) used to refer, and it (normally) refers even when embedded in an attitude report. So embedded, the expression refers to what the ascribed attitude is about. Two distinct relations of reference are involved here : first, the speaker refers to what the ascribed attitude is about ; second, the attitude holder, or ‘ascribee’, is said to entertain an attitude about that object, hence to refer to it mentally. Now, as Frege pointed out, whenever something is referred to, it is referred to in a certain way -- under a certain mode of presentation. Again we have to draw a distinction between the speaker’s mode of presentation and the ascribee’s. On the standard picture, opacity arises when the way the speaker presents the object the attitude is about is meant to reflect, or to match, the ascribee’s own way of thinking of that object. I will criticize that standard picture of opacity and present a more complex picture, based on my work on mental files. On that picture, there are two distinct notions of opacity.

Mark Richard, How Must Propositions Be?

Some –Quine, Davidson, and their followers –are skeptical that reifying meaning or objects of attitudes has much point. But if we don't reify, we seem doomed to following Quine down the road of deeming quantifications such as 'I deny almost everything the Pope says about abortion' as 'expendable'.

What must a proposition be, in order to serve this role, or other roles for which it might be needed in an account of natural language meaning or cognition? Frege and Russell thought that propositions must be, not just representations but "intrinsically representational": they represent, and that they do so is not to be explained in terms of the representational properties of other things. Others –Scott Soames is a contemporary example –think propositions are representational, but inherit their representational properties from the cognitive activity of thinkers.

Yet others see no need to say that propositions are in any interesting sense representational. I defend a version of this view. A proposition is a (structured) property –e.g., a property like the property a situation has iff, were it to obtain, snow and whiteness would be such that the first has the second. As such, propositions themselves don't represent anything; people do, by believing them. I develop and critically contrast this view with other contemporary views about meaning and the attitudes.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




Who is attending?

No one has said they will attend yet.

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.