The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium VI

Facts and Factiveness

Richard Holton| Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Edinburgh

Facts, Factives, and Contra-Factives

Richard Holton (Cambridge)


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, or presupposes, 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). This paper attempts to give an explanation of this, 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 also used to help explain Timothy Williamson's observation that there is no stative propositional attitude factive that requires only belief. Various conclusions are drawn within a broadly ‘knowledge first’ approach.


Richard Holton is professor of philosophy at Cambridge, and a fellow of Peterhouse. He works on a variety of issues in moral psychology, ethics, philosophy of law and philosophy of language. He is the author of Willing, Wanting, Waiting.

John Hyman| Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Edinburgh

Knowledge and Belief

John Hyman (Oxford)


In this article, I oppose the view that knowledge is a species of belief, and argue that belief should be defined in terms of knowledge, instead of the other way round. However, I reject the idea that the concept of knowledge has a primary or basic rôle or position in our system of mental and logical concepts, because I reject the hierarchical conception of philosophical analysis implicit in this idea. I approach the topic of knowledge and belief from a discussion of Richard Holton’s views about facts and factive verbs.


John Hyman is Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford, and Editor of the British Journal of Aesthetics. His books include The Objective Eye (2006), and Action, Knowledge, and Will (2015). He was formerly a Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and a Leverhulme Major Research Fellow.

further info


University of Edinburgh

14-16 July 2017

School of Philosophy
Psychology and Language Sciences
Dugald Stewart Building
3 Charles Street
Edinburgh, EH8 9AD

Local Organiser: Aidan McGlynn

Programme edited by Guy Longworth (Warwick)

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