Biology and Philosophy 20 (5):1011-1025 (2005)

Ulrich Stegmann
University of Aberdeen
This paper explores John Maynard Smith’s conceptual work on animal signals. Maynard Smith defined animal signals as traits that (1) change another organism’s behaviour while benefiting the sender, that (2) are evolved for this function, and that (3) have their effects through the evolved response of the receiver. Like many ethologists, Maynard Smith assumed that animal signals convey semantic information. Yet his definition of animal signals remains silent on the nature of semantic information and on the conditions determining its content. I therefore compare three ways to specify the semantic content of animal signals. The first suggestion models semantic content on Maynard Smith’s theory of genetic information. On the second proposal, semantic content is equated with a condition identified by conventional content ascriptions. The third suggestion is to explain semantic content in terms of consumer-based teleosemantics. I show how these accounts equate semantic content with distinct kinds of conditions and how they differ with respect to the kinds of traits that qualify as carrying semantic information.
Keywords Animal signals  Communication  Content  Genetic information  Representation  Semantic information  Teleosemantics
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2006
DOI 10.1007/s10539-005-9020-8
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,657
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Biosemantics.Ruth Garrett Millikan - 1989 - Journal of Philosophy 86 (July):281-97.
Biosemantics.Ruth Millikan - 2009 - In Brian McLaughlin, Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press.

View all 13 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Signaling Without Cooperation.Marc Artiga - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):357-378.
A Stag Hunt with Signalling and Mutual Beliefs.Jelle de Boer - 2013 - Biology and Philosophy 28 (4):559-576.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
54 ( #201,797 of 2,462,339 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #449,321 of 2,462,339 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes