Submit Coordinated Project

2nd Semester 2019/20: Language and Game Theory


Giorgio Sbardolini

If you are interested in this project, please contact  by email.

Registration until 31 May 2020


Game theory is a branch of mathematics for the study of strategic interactions between decision makers. Game-theoretic concepts have many useful applications, including to various topics in the Philosophy of Language. The project is to explore 3 main applications of game theory to the Philosophy of Language.


Lying and Persuasion. Language can be used cooperatively, to transfer information from agent to agent. This creates an expectation of sincerity, which can be used strategically, for example misleading (by saying less than what full cooperation would require), or defecting from honest communication (in order to maximize one’s advantage). We will discuss various accounts of honest communication in advertising, politics, and in nature, especially in relation to what keeps communication honest despite incentives to deceive.


Implicatures. When someone says “Mike has two children”, one understands that Mike has exactly two children. When someone says “Mary caused the car to stop”, one understands that Mary stopped the car but not as one ordinarily does, by hitting the break. These are implicatures: ways to maximize the amount of information communicated by the sentences within certain limits. Game theory is a natural framework in which to analyze these kinds of inferences. We will discuss some applications, paying attention in particular to the notion of rational communication that is often invoked. 

Vagueness. Some words are imprecise, like heap, bald, late, and countless other examples. On the one hand, precision is good because it lets us avoid mistakes (and paradoxes like the Sorites). But if vagueness were only “bad design”, why is it a common feature of all natural languages? Various hypotheses have been made to explicate the notion of vagueness from a game-theoretic perspective, coming from the assumption that speakers aren’t always perfectly informed, or that sometimes having fewer words available is better.


There will be 3 introductory lectures on each of the selected topics (these will be online if necessary in the current situation). In each of the remaining classes, a student will give a class presentation on a paper. A list of articles will be made available, but suggestions are welcome.




There will be a class presentation, and a short essay. Participation, both in the sense of being online during class, and in the sense of actively contributing to the discussion, will be taken into account.


Suggested readings


  • Benz, A., G. Jaeger and R. van Rooij (2006) An Introduction to Game theory for Linguists. In A. Benz, G. Jaeger, and R. van Rooij (eds.) Game theory and Pragmatics, Palmgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-83.


Lying and Persuasion

  • Kamenica, E. and M. Gentzkow (2011). Bayesian Persuasion, American Economic Review 101: 2590-2615.

  • Crawford, V. (2003). Lying for a strategic advantage, American Economic Review 93: 133-149.

  • Stalnaker, R. (2006) Saying and Meaning, Cheap Talk, and Credibility. In A. Benz, G. Jaeger, and R. van Rooij (eds.) Game theory and Pragmatics, Palmgrave Macmillan, pp. 83-100.

  • Rich, P. and K. Zollman (2016). Honesty through repeated interactions, Journal of Theoretical Biology 395: 238-244; and Maynard Smith, J. (1991). Honest Signalling: The Philip Sidney Game. Animal Behaviour 42: 1034-1035.



  • Rothschild, D. (2013). Game theory and Scalar Implicatures, Philosophical Perspectives 27: 438-478.

  • Pavan, S. (2013). Scalar Implicatures and Philosophy, Linguistics and Philosophy, 36: 261-290.

  • Franke, M. (2011). Quantity implicatures, Exhaustive Interpretation, and Rational Conversation, Semantics and Pragmatics 4: 1-81.

  • Benz A., and R. van Rooij (2007). Optimal assertions and what they implicate, Topoi 26: 63-78.

  • Franke M., and Jaeger G. (2014). Pragmatic back-and-forth reasoning. In S. Pistoia Reda (ed.) Semantics, Pragmatics, and the case of Scalar Implicatures, Palmgrave Macmillan, pp. 170-200.

  • De Jaegher, K. and R. van Rooij (2014), Game-Theoretic Pragmatics Under Conflicting and Common Interests, Erkenntnis, 79: 769-820.



  • Parikh, R. (1994). Vagueness and Utility: The Semantics of Common Nouns, Linguistics and Philosophy 17: 521-535.

  • De Jaegher, K. (2003). A Game-Theoretic Rationale for Vagueness, Linguistics and Philosophy 26: 637-659.

  • Clark, R. and P. Parikh (2007). Game Theory and Discourse Anaphora, Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 16: 265-282.

  • O’Connor, C. (2015). Ambiguity is Kinda Good Sometimes, Philosophy of Science 82: 110-121.

  • O’Connor, C. (2013). The Evolution of Vagueness, Erkenntnis S4: 1-21.