Biology & Philosophy

, 34:47 | Cite as

The evolution of languages of thought

  • Ronald J. PlanerEmail author


The idea that cognition makes use of one or more “languages of thought” remains central to much cognitive-scientific and philosophical theorizing. And yet, virtually no attention has been paid to the question of how a language of thought might evolve in the first place. In this article, I take some steps towards addressing this issue. With the aid of the so-called Sender–Receiver framework, I elucidate a family of distinctions and processes which enable us to see how languages of thought might evolve via a series of small, incremental changes. While much work doubtlessly remains to be done in this area, I hope to at least show that there need be nothing mysterious about the existence of languages of thought on evolutionary grounds.


Sender–Receiver framework Combinatorial signs Encoding signs Compositional syntax and semantics Languages of thought Compact procedures 



I would like to thank the referees for this journal whose comments significantly improved this manuscript. I would also like to thank Peter Godfrey-Smith and Kim Sterelny for comments on earlier drafts.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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