The bee waggle dance is an empirical phenomenon: when a foraging bee discovers a suppély of food, it returns to the hive and does a waggle dance. The rest of the hive then flies out in a certain direction and distance, locating the food. In some sense, the bee communicates the information of the food supply to the hive.

What’s philosophically interesting about this?

  • How do we talk about what the bee is doing?
  • Is the bee ‘speaking a language’? Is the bee saying that ‘food is located in this direction’?
  • Can’t we explain why a particular bee on one occasion does that by invoking the pattern that it’s an instance of?
    • What would it mean to say of a bee returning from a food source that its turnings and wiggling has occurred because they’re part of a complete dance?
    • This is related to distinction of pattern-governed vs rule-obeying behavior.1 Ruth Milliken, Sellars’ student, devotes her career to this, developing the field of teleosemanticsand writing about it in Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories.


  1. Some reflections on language games