Philosophical Studies

, 147:23 | Cite as

Determining truth conditions in signaling games

  • William F. Harms


Evolving signaling systems can be said to induce partitions on the space of world states as they approach equilibrium. Formalizing this claim provides a general framework for understanding what it means for language to “cut nature at its seams”. In order to avoid taking our current best science as providing the adaptive target for all evolving systems, the state space of the world must be characterized exclusively in terms of the coincidence of stimuli and payoffs that drives the evolution of cognitive complexity. Cognition exploits the reliable clustering of events in this space. Using this framework to analyze our ordinary concepts of truth and justification, it appears that while justification can be a simple matter of conforming to historically entrenched strategies, truth cannot be fully specified on the basis of the system’s causal history, but requires a robust clustering in the larger world state space.


Signaling games Teleosemantics Evolutionary epistemology Evolution of meaning Empiricist epistemology 


  1. Barrett, J. A. (2007). Dynamic partitioning and the conventionality of kinds. Philosophy of Science, 74, 527–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dretske, F. (1986). Misinformation. In R. Bogdan (Ed.), Belief: Form, content and function. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  3. Fielding, A. H. (2007). Cluster and classification techniques for the biosciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Godfrey-Smith, P. (1996). Complexity and the function of mind in nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Harms, W. F. (2000). Adaptation and moral realism. Biology and Philosophy, 15, 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Harms, W. F. (2004a). Information and meaning in evolutionary processes. Cambridge, U.K., New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Harms, W. F. (2004b). Primitive content, translation, and the emergence of meaning in animal communication. In K. G. Oller & U. Griebel (Eds.), The evolution of communication systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Lewis, D. (1969). Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Macdonald, G., & Papineau, D. (2006). Teleosemantics: New philosophical essays. Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  10. Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, thought, and other biological categories: New foundations for realism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Skyrms, B. (1996). Evolution of the social contract. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Seattle Central Community CollegeSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations