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Color Irrealism

Edited by Alex Byrne (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
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Summary Color irrealism (or eliminativism) is the view that physical objects like lemons and tomatoes are not colored. Color irrealism may be partial, holding that "mental objects", sense data, are colored. Or it may be total, holding that nothing whatever is colored. Irrealism traces back to the ancient Greek atomists, and is usually supported by a variety of objections to all realist theories of color. 
Introductions For short overviews of the competing theories of color, see the introduction to Byrne & Hilbert 1997, Hilbert 1998 and Byrne & Hilbert 2002. For a more substantial introduction see Maund 2008. A useful annotated bibliography is Brogaard 2010.
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  1. Keith Allen (2012). The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour, by Barry Stroud. Mind 120 (480):1306-1309.
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  2. Keith Allen (2010). Locating The Unique Hues. Rivista di Estetica 43 (43):13-28.
    Variations in colour perception have featured prominently in recent attempts to argue against the view that colours are objective mind-independent properties of the perceptual environment. My aim in this paper is to defend the view that colours are mind-independent properties in response to worries arising from one type of empirically documented case of perceptual variation: variation in the perception of the «unique hues». §1 sets out the challenge raised by variation in the perception of the unique hues. I argue in (...)
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  3. Paul A. Boghossian (2002). Seeking the Real. Philosophical Studies 108 (1-2):223-38.
    A critical discussion of Barry Stroud's claim, in his book The Quest for Reality, that we could never rationally arrive at the conclusion that, for example, the world is not really colored.
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  4. Bill Brewer (2004). Stroud's Quest for Reality. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):408-414.
    Barry Stroud begins his investigation into the metaphysics of colour with a discussion of the elusiveness of the genuinely philosophical quest for reality. He insists upon a distinction between two ways in which the idea of a correspondence between perceptions or beliefs and the facts may be understood: first, as equivalent to the plain truth of the perceptions/beliefs in question; second, as conveying the metaphysical reality of the corresponding features of the world. I begin by voicing some suspicion about this (...)
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  5. Alex Byrne (2002). Yes, Virginia, Lemons Are Yellow. Philosophical Studies 108 (1-2):213-22.
    This paper discusses a number of themes and arguments in The Quest for Reality: Stroud's distinction between philosophical and ordinary questions about reality; the similarity he finds between the view that coloris unreal and the view that it is subjective; his argument against thesecondary quality theory; his argument against the error theory; and the disappointing conclusion of the book.
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  6. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2007). Truest Blue. Analysis 67 (1):87-92.
    Physical objects are coloured: roses are red, violets are blue, and so forth. In particular, physical objects have fine-grained shades of colour: a certain chip, we can suppose, is true blue (unique, or pure blue). The following sort of scenario is commonplace. The chip looks true blue to John; in the same (ordinary) viewing conditions it looks (slightly) greenish-blue to Jane. Both John and Jane are “normal” perceivers. Now, nothing can be both true blue and greenish-blue; since the chip is (...)
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  7. Austen Clark (1996). True Theories, False Colors. Philosophy of Science (Supplement) 63 (3):143-50.
    University of Connecticut Storrs, CT 06279-2054 Abstract. Recent versions of objectivism can reply to the argument from metamers. The deeper rift between subjectivists and objectivists lies in the question of how to explain the structure of qualitative similarities among the colors. Subjectivism grounded in this fashion can answer the circularity objection raised by Dedrick. It endorses skepticism about the claim that there is some one property of objects that it is the function of color vision to detect. Color vision (...)
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  8. 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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  9. Jonathan Cohen (2003). Barry Stroud, the Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour. Noûs 37 (3):537-554.
    In The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour [Stroud, 2000], Barry Stroud carries out an ambitious attack on various forms of irrealism and subjectivism about color. The views he targets - those that would deny a place in objective reality to the colors - have a venerable history in philosophy. Versions of them have been defended by Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, Locke, and Hume; more recently, forms of these positions have been articulated by Williams, Smart, Mackie, Ryle, and (...)
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  10. Jonathan Cohen (2001). Subjectivism, Physicalism or None of the Above? Comments on Ross's The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):94-104.
    In “The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism,” Peter Ross argues against what he calls subjectivism — the view that “colors are not describable in physical terms, ... [but are] mental processes or events of visual states” (2),1 and in favor of physicalism — a view according to which colors are “physical properties of physical objects, such as reflectance properties” (10). He rejects an argument that has been offered in support of subjectivism, and argues that, since no form of subjectivism is (...)
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  11. Don Dedrick (1996). Can Color Be Reduced to Anything? Philosophy of Science Supplement 3 (3):134-42.
    C. L. Hardin has argued that the colour opponency of the vision system leads to chromatic subjectivism: chromatic sensory states reduce to neurophysiological states. Much of the force of Hardin's argument derives from a critique of chromatic objectivism. On this view chromatic sensory states are held to reduce to an external property. While I agree with Hardin's critique of objectivism it is far from clear that the problems which beset objectivism do not apply to the subjectivist position as well. I (...)
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  12. Fabian Dorsch (2009). The Nature of Colours / Die Natur der Farben (in German). Ontos.
    Farben sind für uns sowohl objektive, als auch phänomenale Eigenschaften. In seinem Buch argumentiert Fabian Dorsch, daß keine ontologische Theorie der Farben diesen beiden Seiten unseres Farbbegriffes gerecht werden k ann. Statt dessen sollten wir akzeptieren, daß letzterer sich auf zwei verschiedene Arten von Eigenschaften bezieht: die repräsentierten Reflektanzeigenschaften von Gegenständen und die qualitativen Eigenschaften unserer Farbwahrnehmungen, die als sinnliche Gegebenheitsweisen ersterer fungieren. Die Natur der Farben gibt einen detaillierten Überblick über die zeitgenössischen philosophischen und naturwissenschaftlichen Theorien der Farben und (...)
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  13. Jonathan Ellis (2006). Color, Error, and Explanatory Power. Dialectica 60 (2):171-179.
    At least since Democritus, philosophers have been fond of the idea that material objects do not “really” have color. One such view is the error theory, according to which our ordinary judgments ascribing colors to objects are all erroneous, false; no object has any color at all. The error theorist proposes that everything that is so, including the fact that material objects appear to us to have color, can be explained without ever attributing color to objects—by appealing merely to, e.g., (...)
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  14. Jonathan Ellis (2005). Colour Irrealism and the Formation of Colour Concepts. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):53-73.
    According to colour irrealism, material objects do not have colour; they only appear to have colour. The appeal of this view, prominent among philosophers and scientists alike, stems in large part from the conviction that scientific explanations of colour facts do not ascribe colour to material objects. To explain why objects appear to have colour, for instance, we need only appeal to surface reflectance properties, properties of light, the neurophysiology of observers, etc. Typically attending colour irrealism is the error theory (...)
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  15. Dimitria Electra Gatzia (2010). Colour Fictionalism. Rivista di Estetica 43 (1):109-123.
    In "How to Speak of the Colors", Mark Johnston’s claims that eliminativism would require us to jettison colour discourse. In this paper, I challenge Johnston’s claim. I argue that a particular version of eliminativism, i.e., prescriptive colour fictionalism, allows us to continue employing colour discourse as we have thus far in the absence of colours. In doing so, it employs statistical models in its base discourse to derive high-level statistical constructs that can be linked to the fiction via bridge principles.
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  16. Dimitria Electra Gatzia (2007). Fictional Colors. Sorites (21).
    In this paper, I propose a fictionalist approach to the problem of color. On my view, which I call prescriptive color fictionalism, we can continue to employ our color discourse as we have thus far even if it turns out that there are no colored objects. My proposal is a species of error theory. As such, it does not describe our current practices. It is rather proposed as a prescription to a problem, namely that the color theory we accept (according (...)
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  17. Ian Gold (2001). Spatial Location in Color Vision. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):59-62.
    Ross argues that the location problem for color-the problem of how it is represented as occupying a particular location in space-constitutes an objection to color subjectivism. There are two ways in which the location problem can be interpreted. First, it can be read as a why-question about the relation of visual experience to the environment represented: Why does visual experience represent a patch of color as located in this part of space rather than that? On this interpretation, the subjectivist can (...)
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  18. Richard J. Hall (1996). The Evolution of Color Vision Without Colors. Philosophy of Science Supplement 63 (3):125-33.
    The standard adaptationist explanation of the presence of a sensory mechanism in an organism--that it detects properties useful to the organism--cannot be given for color vision. This is because colors do not exist. After arguing for this latter claim, I consider, but reject, nonadaptationist explanations. I conclude by proposing an explanation of how color vision could have adaptive value even though it does not detect properties in the environment.
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  19. C. L. Hardin (2004). A Green Thought in a Green Shade. Harvard Review of Philosophy 12 (1):29-39.
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  20. C. L. Hardin (2003). A Spectral Reflectance Doth Not a Color Make. Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.
  21. C. L. Hardin (1990). Color and Illusion. In William G. Lycan (ed.), Mind and Cognition. Blackwell.
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  22. C. L. Hardin (1984). Are Scientific Objects Colored? Mind 93 (October):491-500.
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  23. Clyde L. Hardin (1988). Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow. Hackett.
    This expanded edition of C L Hardin's ground-breaking work on colour features a new chapter, 'Further Thoughts: 1993', in which the author revisits the dispute ...
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  24. Emmett L. Holman (2002). Color Eliminativism and Color Experience. Pacific Philosophical Quareterly 83 (1):38-56.
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  25. Barry Maund (2006). The Illusory Theory of Colours: An Anti-Realist Theory. Dialectica 60 (3):245-268.
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  26. Barry Maund (2003). Perception. Acumen.
    Barry Maund's account of the major issues in the philosophy of perception highlights the importance of a good theory of perception in a range of philosophical fields - including epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind - while ...
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  27. J. Barry Maund (1991). The Nature of Color. History of Philosophy Quarterly 8 (3):253-63.
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  28. John McDowell (2004). Reality and Colours: Comment on Stroud. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):395-400.
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  29. James A. McGilvray (1994). Constant Colors in the Head. Synthese 100 (2):197-239.
    I defend a version of color subjectivism — that colors are sortals for certain neural events — by arguing against a sophisticated form of color objectivism and by showing how a subjectivist can legitimately explain the phenomenal fact that colors seem to be properties of external objects.
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  30. James A. McGilvray (1983). To Color. Synthese 54 (January):37-70.
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  31. Angela Mendelovici (2013). Reliable Misrepresentation and Tracking Theories of Mental Representation. Philosophical Studies 165 (2):421-443.
    It is a live possibility that certain of our experiences reliably misrepresent the world around us. I argue that tracking theories of mental representation (e.g. those of Dretske, Fodor, and Millikan) have difficulty allowing for this possibility, and that this is a major consideration against them.
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  32. Vivian Mizrahi & Martine Nida-Rumelin (2006). Introduction. Dialectica 60 (3):209-222.
  33. Adam Pautz, Color Eliminativism.
    Philosophical theories of color divide over two issues. First, there is the issue of Reductionism versus Primitivism. _Reductionism_ holds that colors are identical with physical properties, dispositional properties, or other properties specifiable in non-chromatic terms.
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  34. Adam Pautz (2003). Have Byrne and Hilbert Answered Hardin's Challenge? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):44-45.
    I argue that Byrne and Hilbert have not answered Hardin’s objection to physicalism about color concerning the unitary-binary structure of the colors for two reasons. First, their account of unitary-binary structure seems unsatisfactory. Second, _pace_ Byrne and Hilbert, there are no physicalistically acceptable candidates to be the hue- magnitudes. I conclude with a question about the justification of physicalism about color.
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  35. Peter W. Ross (2012). Perceived Colors and Perceived Locations: A Problem for Color Subjectivism. American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (2):125-138.
    Color subjectivists claim that, despite appearances to the contrary, the world external to the mind is colorless. However, in giving an account of color perception, subjectivists about the nature of perceived color must address the nature of perceived spatial location as well. The argument here will be that subjectivists’ problems with coordinating the metaphysics of perceived color and perceived location render color perception implausibly mysterious. Consequently, some version of color realism, the view that colors are (physical, dispositional, functional, sui generis, (...)
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  36. Peter W. Ross (2001). Locating Color: Further Thoughts. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):146-156.
    "The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism" response to commentators.
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  37. Peter W. Ross (2001). The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):42-58.
    According to color subjectivism, colors are mental properties, processes, or events of visual experiences of color. I first lay out an argument for subjectivism founded on claims from visual science and show that it also relies on a philosophical assumption. I then argue that subjectivism is untenable because this view cannot provide a plausible account of color perception. I describe three versions of subjectivism, each of which combines subjectivism with a theory of perception, namely sense datum theory, adverbialism, and the (...)
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  38. Barry G. Stroud (2004). Replies. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):423-442.
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  39. Barry G. Stroud (2002). Explaining the Quest and its Prospects: Reply to Boghossian and Byrne. Philosophical Studies 108 (1-2):239-247.
    A brief description of the goal and main lines of argument of The Quest for Reality, in reply to the responses of Paul Boghossian and Alex Byrne.
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  40. Barry G. Stroud (2000). The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour. Oxford University Press.
    We say "the grass is green" or "lemons are yellow" to state what everyone knows. But are the things we see around us really colored, or do they only look that way because of the effects of light rays on our eyes and brains? Is color somehow "unreal" or "subjective" and dependent on our human perceptions and the conditions under which we see things? Distinguished scholar Barry Stroud investigates these and related questions in The Quest for Reality. In this long-awaited (...)
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  41. Joseph T. Tolliver (1996). Interior Colors. Philosophical Topics 22 (1/2):411-41.
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