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Color Experience

Edited by Susanna Siegel (Harvard University)
Assistant editor: Alex Byrne (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
About this topic
Summary What is the relationship between colors and our experiences of colors? Are the properties presented to us in color experience colors, or properties related to colors in some way other than identity? What do color experiences reveal to us about colors? Do color experiences suggest that things in the world are colored? Do they suggest that mental items are colored? Do they suggest that anything is colored? Is it possible for two subjects to have identical color experience that represent different color properties, or different color experiences that represent the same color? If so, must one of the experiences be in error? Can two color experiences differ phenomenally without differing in their representational features?
Key works In the 1990's, philosophers discussed general issues about perception by focusing on color. A good sample of key papers from this period is in Byrne & Hilbert 1997. Byrne and Hilbert's introduction is a useful overview of the issues. Johnston 1992 focuses on what color experience reveals about color properties, and spurred debate about whether any close cousins of the notion of acquaintance discussed by Russell 1912 characterize color experience.  Shoemaker 1982 discusses a thought experiment from Locke 1979 in which the same color looks different to two perceivers, focusing initially on whether this is possible, and if so whether it would involve any illusion.  The status of this thought experiment spurred debate about all of the central issues in the philosophy of perception.
Introductions Byrne & Hilbert 1997; Johnston 1992; Campbell 1997.
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  1. Valtteri Arstila (2010). Color Eliminativism and Intuitions About Colors. Rivista di Estetica 50 (43):29-45.
    The philosophical debate over the nature of color has been governed by what we have learnt from color vision science and what color phenomenology suggests to us. It is usually thought that color eliminativism, which maintains that physical objects do not have any properties that can be identified with colors, can account for the former but not the latter. After all, what could be more obvious than the external world to be colored? Here I outline one color eliminativistic response to (...)
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  2. Edward Averill (2012). The Phenomenological Character of Color Perception. Philosophical Studies 157 (1):27-45.
    When an object looks red to an observer, the visual experience of the observer has two important features. The experience visually represents the object as having a property—being red. And the experience has a phenomenological character; that is, there is something that it is like to have an experience of seeing an object as red. Let qualia be the properties that give our sensory and perceptual experiences their phenomenological character. This essay takes up two related problem for a nonreductive account (...)
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  3. Katherine E. Baker & Irene Mackintosh (1955). The Influence of Past Associations Upon Attributive Color Judgments. Journal of Experimental Psychology 49 (4):281.
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  4. Thomas Baldwin (1992). The Projective Theory of Sensory Content. In Tim Crane (ed.), The Contents of Experience. Cambridge University Press
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  5. Laura Berchielli (ed.) (1995). Bilder Im Geiste. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
    Der vorliegende Band der Reihe Philosophie & Repräsentation/Philosophy & Representation: bietet eine informative Einführung in die Diskussion zur Rolle bildlicher Vorstellungen, die unter dem Titel 'Imagery Debate' in den Kognitionswissenschaften und der analytischen Philosophie bereits seit den 60er Jahren lebhaft geführt wird. Gibt es bereits auf der Ebene unserer Kognitionen, so ließe sich die Leitfrage formulieren, bildliche Repräsentationsformen, und welche Funktionen kommen ihnen innerhalb unserer Erkenntnisprozesse zu? Eine solche Frage richtet sich kritisch gegen die Annahme, daß wir Wissen letztlich nur (...)
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  6. Laura Berchielli (1995). Representing Color: Discussions and Problems. In Bilder Im Geiste. Amsterdam: Rodopi
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  7. Vincent A. Billock & Brian H. Tsou (2004). Color, Qualia, and Psychophysical Constraints on Equivalence of Color Experience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (1):164-165.
    It has been suggested that difficult-to-quantify differences in visual processing may prevent researchers from equating the color experience of different observers. However, spectral locations of unique hues are remarkably invariant with respect to everything other than gross differences in preretinal and photoreceptor absorptions. This suggests a stereotyping of neural color processing and leads us to posit that minor differences in observer neurophysiology may be irrelevant to color experience.
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  8. Robert Briscoe (forthcoming). Color Categorization. In Derek Brown & Fiona Macpherson (eds.), Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Colour. Routledge
  9. Berit Brogaard (2009). Perceptual Content and Monadic Truth: On Cappelen and Hawthorne's Relativism and Monadic Truth. Philosophical Books 50 (4):213-226.
    I will begin with a brief presentation of C & H’s arguments against nonindexical contextualism, temporalism, and relativism. I will then offer a general argument against the monadic truth package. Finally, I will offer arguments in favor of nonindexical contextualism and temporalism.
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  10. Berit Brogaard, Simo Vanni & Juha Silvanto (forthcoming). Seeing Mathematics: Perception and Brain Activity in a Case of Acquired Synesthesia. Neurocase.
    We studied the patient JP who has exceptional abilities to draw complex geometrical images by hand and a form of acquired synesthesia for mathematical formulas and objects, which he perceives as geometrical figures. JP sees all smooth curvatures as discrete lines, similarly regardless of scale. We carried out two preliminary investigations to establish the perceptual nature of synesthetic experience and to investigate the neural basis of this phenomenon. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, image-inducing formulas produced larger fMRI (...)
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  11. Derek H. Brown (2010). Locating Projectivism in Intentionalism Debates. Philosophical Studies 148 (1):69-78.
    Intentionalism debates seek to uncover the relationship between the qualitative aspects of experience—phenomenal character—and the intentionality of the mind. They have been at or near center stage in the philosophy of mind for more than two decades, and in my view need to be reexamined. There are two core distinct intentionalism debates that are rarely distinguished (Sect. 1). Additionally, the characterization of spectrum inversion as involving inverted qualities and constant intentional content is mistaken (Sect. 3). These confusions can be witnessed (...)
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  12. John Campbell (2005). Transparency Vs. Revelation in Color Perception. Philosophical Topics 33 (1):105-115.
    What knowledge of the colors does perception of the colors provide? My first aim in this essay is to characterize the way in which color experience seems to provide knowledge of colors. This in turn tells us something about what it takes for there to be colors. Color experience provides knowledge of the aspect of the world that is being acted on when we, or some external force, act on the color of an object and thus make a difference to (...)
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  13. David J. Chalmers (2006). Perception and the Fall From Eden. In Tamar S. Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience. Oxford University Press 49--125.
    In the Garden of Eden, we had unmediated contact with the world. We were directly acquainted with objects in the world and with their properties. Objects were simply presented to us without causal mediation, and properties were revealed to us in their true intrinsic glory.
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  14. Philippe Chuard (2007). Indiscriminable Shades and Demonstrative Concepts. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (2):277 – 306.
    Conceptualists have it that the representational content of perceptual experience is determined by the concepts a subject applies in having such an experience. Conceptualists like Bill Brewer [1999] and John McDowell [1994] have laid particular emphasis on demonstrative concepts in trying to account for the fact that subjects can perceive and discriminate very many specific shades of colour in experience. Against this, it has been objected that such demonstrative concepts have incoherent conditions of extension and/or of individuation, due to the (...)
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  15. Paul M. Churchland (2005). Chimerical Colors: Some Phenomenological Predictions From Cognitive Neuroscience. Philosophical Psychology 18 (5):527-560.
    The Hurvich-Jameson (H-J) opponent-process network offers a familiar account of the empirical structure of the phenomenological color space for humans, an account with a number of predictive and explanatory virtues. Its successes form the bulk of the existing reasons for suggesting a strict identity between our various color sensations on the one hand, and our various coding vectors across the color-opponent neurons in our primary visual pathways on the other. But anti-reductionists standardly complain that the systematic parallels discovered by the (...)
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  16. Jonathan Cohen (2010). Color Relationalism and Color Phenomenology. In Bence Nanay (ed.), Perceiving the World. Oxford University Press 13.
    Color relationalism is the view that colors are constituted in terms of relations between subjects and objects. The most historically important form of color relationalism is the classic dispositionalist view according to which, for example red is the disposition to look red to standard observers in standard conditions (mutatis mutandis for other colors).1 However, it has become increasingly apparent in recent years that a commitment to the relationality of colors bears interest that goes beyond dispositionalism (Cohen, 2004; Matthen, 1999, 2001, (...)
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  17. Jonathan Cohen (2009/2011). The Red and the Real: An Essay on Color Ontology. Oxford.
    The space of options -- The argument from perceptual variation -- Variation revisited : objections and responses -- Relationism defended : linguistic and mental representation of color -- Relationism defended : ontology -- Relationism defended : phenomenology -- A role functionalist theory of color -- Role functionalism and its relationalist rivals.
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  18. Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.) (2010). Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press.
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  19. Jonathan Cohen, C. L. Hardin & Brian P. McLaughlin (2007). The Truth About 'the Truth About True Blue'. Analysis 67 (294):162–166.
    It can happen that a single surface S, viewed in normal conditions, looks pure blue (“true blue”) to observer John but looks blue tinged with green to a second observer, Jane, even though both are normal in the sense that they pass the standard psychophysical tests for color vision. Tye (2006a) finds this situation prima facie puzzling, and then offers two different “solutions” to the puzzle.1 The first is that at least one observer misrepresents S’s color because, though normal in (...)
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  20. Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (2010). Introduction. In Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press
    The Introduction discusses determinables and similarity spaces and ties together the contributions to Color Ontology and Color Science.
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  21. Kevin Connolly (2011). Does Perception Outstrip Our Concepts in Fineness of Grain? Ratio 24 (3):243-258.
    We seem perfectly able to perceive fine-grained shades of colour even without possessing precise concepts for them. The same might be said of shapes. I argue that this is in fact not the case. A subject can perceive a colour or shape only if she possesses a concept of that type of colour or shape. I provide new justification for this thesis, and do not rely on demonstrative concepts such as THIS SHADE or THAT SHAPE, a move first suggested by (...)
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  22. Will Davies (forthcoming). Colour Vision and Seeing Colours. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    Colour vision plays a foundational explanatory role in the philosophy of colour, and serves as perennial quarry in the wider philosophy of perception. I present two contributions to our understanding of this notion. The first is to develop a constitutive approach to characterising colour vision. This approach seeks to comprehend the nature of colour vision qua psychological kind, as contrasted with traditional experiential approaches, which prioritise descriptions of our ordinary visual experience of colour. The second contribution is to argue that (...)
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  23. Will Davies (forthcoming). Colour Constancy, Illumination, and Matching. Philosophy of Science.
    Colour constancy is a foundational and yet puzzling phenomenon. Standard appearance invariantism is threatened by the psychophysical matching argument, which is taken to favour variantism. This argument, however, is inconclusive. The data at best support a pluralist view: colour constancy is sometimes variantist, sometimes invariantist. I add another potential explanation of these data, complex invariantism, which adopts an atypical six-dimensional model of colour appearance. Finally I prospect for a unifying conception of constancy among two neglected notions: discriminatory colour constancy and (...)
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  24. Steven Davis (ed.) (2000). Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic, and Computational Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Color has been studied for centuries, but has never been completely understood. Digital technology has recently sparked a burgeoning interdisciplinary interest in color. The fact that color is a quality of perception rather than a physical quality brings up a host of interesting questions of interest to both artists and scholars. This volume--the ninth in the Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science series--brings together chapters by psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, and artists to explore the nature of human color perception with the (...)
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  25. Lieven Decock & Igor Douven (2013). Qualia Compression. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (1):129-150.
    Color qualia inversion scenarios have played a key role in various philosophical debates. Most notably perhaps, they have figured in skeptical arguments for the fundamental unknowability of other persons’ color experiences. For these arguments to succeed, it must be assumed that a person's having inverted color qualia may go forever unnoticed. This assumption is now generally deemed to be implausible. The present paper defines a variant of color qualia inversion—termed ‘‘color qualia compression’’—and argues that the possibility of undetectable color qualia (...)
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  26. Jan Degenaar & Erik Myin (2013). The Structure of Color Experience and the Existence of Surface Colors. Philosophical Psychology (3):1-17.
    Color experience is structured. Some ?unique? colors (red, green, yellow, and blue) appear as ?pure,? or containing no trace of any other color. Others can be considered as a mixture of these colors, or as ?binary colors.? According to a widespread assumption, this unique/binary structure of color experience is to be explained in terms of neurophysiological structuring (e.g., by opponent processes) and has no genuine explanatory basis in the physical stimulus. The argument from structure builds on these assumptions to argue (...)
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  27. Frances Egan (2008). The Content of Color Experience. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):407–414.
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  28. Mark Eli Kalderon, The Multiply Qualitative.
    What is the relation between colors and our experience of them? A na?ve thought is this?the phenomenal character of color experience is determined by the qualitative character of the perceived color. When Norm perceives a red tomato, the qualitative character of his color experience is determined by the qualitative character of the color manifest in his experience of the tomato. If however, colors are mind- independent qualities of material objects, as they seem, pre-philosophically to be, then this can seem to (...)
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  29. Peter Fazekas & Zoltán Jakab, Sensory Representation and Cognitive Architecture: An Alternative to Phenomenal Concepts.
    We present a cognitive-physicalist account of phenomenal consciousness. We argue that phenomenal concepts do not differ from other types of concepts. When explaining the peculiarities of conscious experience, the right place to look at is sensory/ perceptual representations and their interaction with general conceptual structures. We utilize Jerry Fodor’s psycho- semantic theory to formulate our view. We compare and contrast our view with that of Murat Aydede and Güven Güzeldere, who, using Dretskean psychosemantic theory, arrived at a solution different from (...)
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  30. Justin C. Fisher, Color Representations as Hash Values.
    The goal of this paper is to answer the following question: When we have mental states that represent certain things as being colored, what properties are our mental states representing these things as having?
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  31. Robert J. Fogelin (1984). Hume and the Missing Shade of Blue. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 45 (December):263-272.
  32. Bryan Frances (forthcoming). Why Afterimages Are Metaphysically Mysterious. Think.
    A short essay for a popular audience on why afterimages are difficult to fit into any ontology.
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  33. Todd Ganson (2013). Are Color Experiences Representational? Philosophical Studies 166 (1):1-20.
    The dominant view among philosophers of perception is that color experiences, like color judgments, are essentially representational: as part of their very nature color experiences possess representational contents which are either accurate or inaccurate. My starting point in assessing this view is Sydney Shoemaker’s familiar account of color perception. After providing a sympathetic reconstruction of his account, I show how plausible assumptions at the heart of Shoemaker’s theory make trouble for his claim that color experiences represent the colors of things. (...)
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  34. Kathrin Glüer (2012). Colors and the Content of Color Experience. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 12 (3):421-437.
    In previous work, I have defended a non-standard version of intentionalism about perceptual experience. According to the doxastic account, visual experience is a peculiar kind of belief: belief with “phenomenal” or looks-content. In this paper, I investigate what happens if this account of experience is combined with another idea I find very plausible: That the colors are to be understood in terms of color experience. I argue that the resulting phenomenal account of color experience captures everything essential to what has (...)
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  35. Mario Gómez‐Torrente (2015). Objectivism About Color and Comparative Color Statements. Reply to Hansen. Noûs 50 (2).
    Nat Hansen builds a new argument for subjectivism about the semantics of color language, based on a potential kind of intersubjective disagreements about comparative color statements. In reply, I note that the disagreements of this kind are merely hypothetical, probably few if actual, and not evidently relevant as test cases for a semantic theory. Furthermore, even if they turned out to be actual and semantically relevant, they would be intuitively unusable by the subjectivist.
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  36. Mario Gómez‐Torrente (2014). Perceptual Variation, Color Language, and Reference Fixing. An Objectivist Account. Noûs 49 (3):3-40.
    I offer a new objectivist theory of the contents of color language and color experience, intended especially as an account of what normal intersubjective variation in color perception and classification shows about those contents. First I explain an abstract account of the contents of color and other gradable adjectives; on the account, these contents are certain objective properties constituted in part by contextually intended standards of application, which are in turn values in the dimensions of variation associated with the adjectives. (...)
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  37. Herbert Guenther (1998). Sound, Color, and Self-Organization. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 17 (2):67-88.
    In Buddhist experience-qua-experienced based and process-oriented thought the experiencer is an integral aspect by virtue of his being a participant, not a detached observer, in the anthropocosmic unfolding of life's mystery, variously called "reality," "Being," or "wholeness." The unfolding process passes through three phases, called "in-depth appraisals," toward a definite value of phase difference. The whole process is experienced as shifting patterns of energy in constant creative interaction with their environment through frequencies of light and intensities of vibrations . These (...)
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  38. Ute Guzzoni (2005). Wasser: Das Meer Und Die Brunnen, Die Flüsse Und der Regen. Parerga.
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  39. C. L. Hardin (2000). Red and Yellow, Green and Blue, Warm and Cool: Explaining Color Appearance. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (8-9):113-122.
    Painters are the experts in colour phenomenology. Their business is to use colour to affect our feelings. Psychophysicists are expert in making experimental inferences from behavioural responses to the functional mechanisms of perception. The varying aims of these two groups of people mean that much that is of interest to the one is of little concern to the other. However, in recent times several prominent psychophysicists, such as Floyd Ratliff , Jack Werner and Dorothea Jameson , have thrown much light (...)
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  40. Gilbert Harman (1996). Explaining Objective Color in Terms of Subjective Reactions. Philosophical Issues 7:1-17.
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  41. Gilbert Harman (1996). Qualia and Color Concepts. Philosophical Issues 7:75-79.
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  42. Benj Hellie (2005). Noise and Perceptual Indiscriminability. Mind 114 (455):481-508.
    Perception represents colours inexactly. This inexactness results from phenomenally manifest noise, and results in apparent violations of the transitivity of perceptual indiscriminability. Whether these violations are genuine depends on what is meant by 'transitivity of perceptual indiscriminability'.
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  43. David R. Hilbert (2005). Color Constancy and the Complexity of Color. Philosophical Topics 33 (1):141-158.
    We can start with a definition. “[C]olour constancy is the constancy of the perceived colours of surfaces under changes in the intensity and spectral composition of the illumination.” (Foster et al. 1997) Given the definition we can now ask a question: Does human color vision exhibit color constancy?1 The answer to the question depends in part on how we interpret it. If the question is understood as asking whether human color vision displays constancy for every possible scene across every possible (...)
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  44. David R. Hilbert & Alex Byrne (2010). How Do Things Look to the Color-Blind? In Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press 259.
    forthcoming in Color Ontology and Color Science, ed. J. Cohen and M. Matthen (MIT).
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  45. Emmett L. Holman (2002). Color Eliminativism and Color Experience. Pacific Philosophical Quareterly 83 (1):38-56.
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  46. Mariann Hudak, Zoltan Jakab & Ilona Kovacs (2013). Phenomenal Qualities and the Development of Perceptual Integration. In Liliana Albertazzi (ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Experimental Phenomenology; Visual Perception of Shape, Space and Appearance. Wiley-Blackwell
    In this chapter, data concerning the development of principal aspects of vision is reviewed. First, the development of colour vision and luminance perception is discussed. Relevant data accumulated so far indicates that perception of colour and luminance is present by 6-9 months of age. The presence of typical color illusions at this age suggests that the phenomenal character of color experience is comparable to that of adults well before the first birthday. Thus it seems plausible that color perception develops on (...)
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  47. Zoltan Jakab (2006). Revelation and Normativity in Visual Experience. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36 (1):25-56.
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  48. Zoltán Jakab (2005). Opponent Processing, Linear Models, and the Veridicality of Color Perception. In Andrew Brook (ed.), Cognition and the Brain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 336--378.
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  49. Zoltan Jakab (2003). Phenomenal Projection. Psyche 9 (4).
    In this paper I shall defend a projectivist view of sensory experience. The case I shall focus on is that of color experience. Projectivism has recently been criticized by some authors who claim that it is unintelligible, or at least implausible, and that it makes a severe category mistake. I shall argue that despite some prima facie impressions of implausibility, projectivism can be made intelligible, and plausible, if its details are spelled out in a reasonable way. In addition, projectivism is (...)
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  50. Yasmina Jraissati (2014). On Color Categorization: Why Do We Name Seven Colors in the Rainbow? Philosophy Compass 9 (6):382-391.
    What makes it the case that we draw the boundary between “blue” and “green” where we draw it? Do we draw this boundary where we draw it because our perceptual system is biologically determined in this way? Or is it culture and language that guide the way we categorize colors? These two possible answers have shaped the historical discussion opposing so-called universalists to relativists. Yet, the most recent theoretical developments on color categorization reveal the limits of such a polarization.
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