Factive and Non-Factive Mental State Attribution
Jennifer Nagel (University of Toronto)

December 2, 2016, 9:00am - 10:30am
Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario

Stevenson Lawson Hall 3101
1151 Richmond Street
London N6A 5B8


Unlike states of knowledge, states of belief can diverge from reality. This divergence can be interestingly predict­able: humans have natural capacities to anticipate the false beliefs that other agents naturally have in a variety of situations. However, even in the simple situations probed by classic tests of false belief attribution, calculating the contents of the misled agent’s beliefs is a non-trivial task. To explain how we instinctively manage this task, researchers have directed tremendous energy to figuring out what is special about reality-incongruent or counterfactual states, in contrast to reality-congruent or accurate states of mind. This article argues that a better line of contrast runs between factive states, such as knowing or being aware, which can only link an agent to the truth, and non-factive states such as believing or thinking, which can link an agent to either truth or falsehood. After reviewing salient linguistic and functional features of this contrast, I apply these features to the problem of calculating belief contents, aiming to show how it is that attributions of the non-factive state of belief are initially launched, and subsequently guided by, attributions of factive mental states.

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