Toward a Formal Analysis of Deceptive Signaling

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Fallis, Don; Lewis, Peter J.
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preprint description
Deception has long been an important topic in philosophy (see Augustine 1952; Kant 1996; Chisholm & Feehan 1977; Mahon 2007; Carson 2010). However, the traditional analysis of the concept, which requires that a deceiver intentionally cause her victim to have a false belief, rules out the possibility of much deception in the animal kingdom. Cognitively unsophisticated species, such as fireflies and butterflies, have simply evolved to mislead potential predators and/or prey. To capture such cases of “functional deception,” several researchers (e.g., Sober 1994; Hauser 1997; Searcy & Nowicki 2005, Skyrms 2010) have endorsed the broader view that deception only requires that a deceiver benefit from sending a misleading signal. Moreover, in order to facilitate game-theoretic study of deception in the context of Lewisian sender-receiver games, Brian Skyrms has proposed an influential formal analysis of this view. Such formal analyses have the potential to enhance our philosophical understanding of deception in humans as well as animals. However, as we argue in this paper, Skyrms's analysis, as well as two recently proposed alternative analyses (viz., Godfrey-Smith 2011; McWhirter 2016), are seriously flawed and can lead us to draw unwarranted conclusions about deception.