Is a Fact a Propositional State?

In philosophy, we talk of “propositional attitudes”, like beliefs and desires, which have “content” that can be expressed as a proposition, which in turn may be true or false. Propositions are simply the sorts of thing that can be true or false. Beliefs are the paradigm case of propositional attitudes, because when we believe something we hold it to be true. Belief arguably treats propositions essentially as propositions. It holds them “as such”. But desires also have propositional content. If I desire to go on vacation, I’m hoping (another propositional attitude) that the proposition “I am on vacation” will soon be true. That is, the desire has content that can be expressed as a statement that is currently false and the relevant attitude is something like dissatisfaction with that state of affairs.

We normally say that a proposition is made true, if it is, by a “fact”. This is sometimes called “the correspondence theory” of truth, according to which propositions are true “to the facts”, i.e., in so far as they correspond with the facts, or what are sometimes also called “states of affairs”. Now, propositional attitudes are also states of affairs–they are “mental” states. If I believe something, it is a fact that I believe it. A great deal of social research involves establishing what people believe, or desire, or hope, or fear.

This would seem to suggest that a propositional attitude actually has two components. (1) a propositional state and (2) the relevant attitude (of holding it to be true, for example, or hoping it will soon become true). The question that I’m raising in the title of this post is whether there is also a physical “state of affairs”, an arrangement in the world, that can rightly be considered “propositional”. There is the fact out there in the world: is it “articulate” like a proposition? Is it a propositional state?

When I started this post I thought I knew the answer, and that the answer is yes. Having stated the question more clearly, however, I’m not as sure. The great thing about blogging in a situation like this is that I can just put it out there and see how that feels. I will return to the question soon.

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