Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 253–270 | Cite as

On Scott-Phillips’ General Account of Communication

Regular Article


The purpose of this paper is to critically engage with a recent attempt by Thom Scott-Phillips to offer a general account of communication. As a general account, it is intended to apply equally well to both non-human and human interactions which are prima facie communicative in character. However, so far, Scott-Phillips has provided little detail regarding how his account is supposed to apply to the latter set of cases. After presenting what I take to be the most plausible way of filling in those details, I argue that his account would appear to be too narrow: it (minimally) fails to capture a range of human interactions which strike us as instances of communication. To wit, these are cases in which some but not all of the information an act is designed to convey to a reactor actually reaches that reactor. An alternative account incorporating Scott-Phillips’ main insights is then sketched, and it is suggested that this account, or something like it, would accommodate the full range of non-human and human interactions that are intuitively communicative.


Communication Function Information Coercion Cue Ostensive communication Partial communication 



I am grateful to Stephen Mann and Kim Sterelny for comments on an early draft of this article. I would also like to thank Thom Scott Phillips and two anonymous referees for their feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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