Animal communication and neo-expressivism

In Robert W. Lurz (ed.), The Philosophy of Animal Minds. Cambridge University Press 128--144 (2009)
One of the earliest issues in cognitive ethology concerned the meaning of animal signals. In the 1970s and 1980s this debate was most active with respect to the question of whether animal alarm calls convey information about the emotional states of animals or whether they “refer” directly to predators in the environment (Seyfarth, Cheney, & Marler 1980; see Radick 2007 for a historical account), but other areas, such as vocalizations about food and social contact, were also widely discussed. In the 1990s, ethologists largely came to a consensus that such calls were “functionally referential” (Evans & Marler 1995) even if they did not satisfy all the semantic requirements imposed by philosophers of language. More recently, though, it has been argued that ethologists should eschew the concept of reference and return to a focus on the affective aspects of animal communication (Rendall & Owren 2002). We propose to take a new look at this debate in the light of recent developments in the philosophy of language under the heading of “Neo-Expressivism” (Bar-On 2004). This view provides two different senses..
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