Directed action and animal communication

Ration 6 (2):135-54 (1993)
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Abstract

Human action theory, with its emphasis on intentions and reasons, does little to enhance our understanding of the actions of nonhuman animals. Many animal (and human) actions are directed to objects in the world, including other animals. The notion of directedness can be analysed without attributing intentions or reasons to the agent. An action is directed to object X if and only if: (1) the agent singles out X, either by orientation or by selective performance of the action in the presence of X; (2) the agent recognizes X as a suitable object; and (3) the goal of the action is that X should be in a certain relation to the agent or to some other object. The goal of an action is not necessarily attributable to the agent as the agent's goal in acting. Moreover, an agent can have a goal in acting without understanding how the action achieves the goal. The usefulness of the concept of directed action in the study of animal communication is illustrated with examples from the recent ethological literature.

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