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Altruistic deception

Birch, Jonathan (2019) Altruistic deception. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C :Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 74. pp. 27-33. ISSN 1369-8486

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2019.01.004

Abstract

Altruistic deception (or the telling of “white lies”) is common in humans. Does it also exist in non-human animals? On some definitions of deception, altruistic deception is impossible by definition, whereas others make it too easy by counting useful-but-ambiguous information as deceptive. I argue for a definition that makes altruistic deception possible in principle without trivializing it. On my proposal, deception requires the strategic exploitation of a receiver by a sender, where “exploitation” implies that the sender elicits a behaviour in the receiver that is beneficial in a different type of situation and is expressed only because the signal raises the probability, from the receiver's standpoint, of that type of situation. I then offer an example of a real signal that is deceptive in this sense, and yet potentially altruistic (and certainly cooperative): the purr call of the pied babbler. Fledglings associate purr calls with food, and adults exploit this learned association, in the absence of food, to lead fledglings away from predators following an alarm call. I conclude by considering why altruistic deception is apparently so rare in non-human animals.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 Elsevier Ltd.
Divisions: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2019 16:24
Last Modified: 23 May 2020 23:08
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/100224

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