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Color

Edited by Alex Byrne (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
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Summary The central issue in the philosophy of color concerns the nature of colors—for instance, whether they are physical properties of some sort—and whether ordinary objects like tomatoes and lemons really are colored. Color serves as a relatively tractable test case for a variety of issues in the philosophy of perception, epistemology, and metaphysics.
Key works Perhaps the most influential recent book on the general topic of color is Hardin 1988. Other important books are Stroud 2000 and Cohen 2009. A collection of central papers in the philosophy of color is Byrne & Hilbert 1997; Byrne & Hilbert 1997 is a companion volume on color science.
Introductions For short overviews of the competing theories of color, see the introduction to Byrne & Hilbert 1997, Byrne & Hilbert 2002 and Pautz 2009. For a more substantial introduction see Maund 2008. A useful annotated bibliography is Brogaard 2010.
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  1. I. Abramov & J. Gordon (1997). Constraining Color Categories: The Problem of the Baby and the Bath Water. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20 (2):179-180.
    No crucial experiment demonstrates that four hue categories are needed to describe color appearance. Instead, converging lines of evidence suggest that the terms red, yellow, green, and blue are sufficient and precise enough for deriving color discrimination functions and for a useful model constraining relations between color appearance and neuronal responses. Such a model need not be based on linguistic universals. Until something better is available, this holds.
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  2. K. A. Akins & M. Hahn (2014). More Than Mere Colouring: The Role of Spectral Information in Human Vision. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (1):125-171.
    A common view in both philosophy and the vision sciences is that, in human vision, wavelength information is primarily ‘for’ colouring: for seeing surfaces and various media as having colours. In this article we examine this assumption of ‘colour-for-colouring’. To motivate the need for an alternative theory, we begin with three major puzzles from neurophysiology, puzzles that are not explained by the standard theory. We then ask about the role of wavelength information in vision writ large. How might wavelength information (...)
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  3. Kathleen Akins & Martin Hahn (2000). Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic, and Computational Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
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  4. Kathleen Akins & Martin Hahn (2000). The Peculiarity of Color. In Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic, and Computational Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
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  5. Miri Albahari (1999). Objective Colours and Evolutionary Value: A Reply to Dedrick. Dialogue 38 (01):99-108.
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  6. Virgil C. Aldrich (1952). Colors as Universals. Philosophical Review 61 (3):377-381.
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  7. Keith Allen (2012). Colour, Contextualism, and Self-Locating Contents. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 12 (3):331-350.
    This paper considers two accounts of the way that colours are represented in perception, thought, and language that are consistent with relationalist theories of colour: Jonathan Cohen’s contextualist semantics for colour ascriptions, and Andy Egan’s suggestion that colour ascriptions have self-locating contents. I argue that colours are not represented in perception, thought, or language as mind-dependent relational properties.
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  8. David M. Armstrong (1993). Reply to Campbell. In John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honour of D M Armstrong. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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  9. Edward W. Averill (2005). Toward a Projectivist Account of Color. Journal of Philosophy 102 (5):217-34.
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  10. Edward W. Averill (1985). Color and the Anthropocentric Problem. Journal of Philosophy 82 (June):281-303.
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  11. Edward Wilson Averill (2003). Perceptual Variation and Access to Colors. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):22-22.
    To identify the set of reflectances that constitute redness, the authors must first determine which surfaces are red. They do this by relying on widespread agreement among us. However, arguments based on the possible ways in which humans would perceive colors show that mere widespread agreement among us is not a satisfactory way to determine which surfaces are red.
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  12. Edward Wilson Averill & Allan Hazlett (2011). Color Objectivism and Color Projectivism. Philosophical Psychology 24 (6):751 - 765.
    Objectivism and projectivism are standardly taken to be incompatible theories of color. Here we argue that this incompatibility is only apparent: objectivism and projectivism, properly articulated so as to deal with basic objections, are in fundamental agreement about the ontology of color and the phenomenology of color perception.
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  13. John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.) (1993). Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honour of D M Armstrong. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    This collection of essays, all especially written for this volume, explore the many facets of Armstrong's work, concentrating on his more recent interests.
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  14. Tony Belpaeme (2008). Insights From the Colour Category Controversy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (1):75-76.
    There are striking parallels between the basic tastes debate and the debate on human colour categorisation. Colour categories show a remarkable cross-cultural similarity, but at the same the time exhibit seemingly inexplicable large interpersonal variations. Recent results suggest that colour categories are the result of cultural learning constrained by the neural substrate of colour perception.
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  15. Philip J. Benson (1999). Color: How You See It, When You Don't. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (6):945-946.
    It is worth considering whether particular behavioral measures from observers are ever consciously (or preattentively) transformed a priori so as to render inferences about them indistinguishable. This is unlikely, but recent experiments indicating color sensitivity and selectivity without visual awareness suggest that the distinction between what can and cannot be explained about color experience using behavioral responses may not be as obvious as Palmer concluded.
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  16. John Bigelow & Robert Pargetter (1990). Colouring in the World. Mind 99 (394):279-88.
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  17. David Bimler (2005). Intimations of Optimality: Extensions of Simulation Testing of Color-Language Hypotheses. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (4):489-490.
    By emphasizing that color categories are the collective achievement of a language community, the methodology of Steels & Belpaeme (S&B) suggests a number of corollaries. It focuses attention on whether a system of categories is optimized to match color experience. If a hypothesis can be operationalized about the nature of the optimality – about how color language becomes standardized – it becomes testable.
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  18. Peter Bradley (2008). Constancy, Categories and Bayes: A New Approach to Representational Theories of Color Constancy. Philosophical Psychology 21 (5):601 – 627.
    Philosophers have long sought to explain perceptual constancy—the fact that objects appear to remain the same color, size and shape despite changes in the illumination condition, perspective and the relative distance—in terms of a mechanism that actively categorizes variable stimuli under the same pre-formed conceptual categories. Contemporary representationalists, on the other hand, explain perceptual constancy in terms of a modular mechanism that automatically discounts variation in the visual field to represent the stable properties of objects. In this paper I argue (...)
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  19. Geoffrey Brennan, Robert E. Goodin & Michael A. Smith (eds.) (2007). Common Minds: Themes From the Philosophy of Philip Pettit. Oxford University Press.
    During a career spanning over thirty years Philip Pettit has made seminal contributions in moral philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of the social sciences, philosophy of mind and action, and metaphysics. The corpus of work Pettit has contributed and stimulated is all the more remarkable because of the way in which Pettit and his circle adapt lessons learned when thinking about problems in one area of philosophy to problems in a completely different area. -/- Common Minds presents specially written papers by (...)
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  20. Michael H. Brill (2003). “Color Realism” Shows a Subjectivist' Mode of Thinking. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):23-24.
    Byrne & Hilbert (B&H) assert that reflectances embody the reality of color, but metamerism smears the authors' “real” color categories into uselessness. B&H ignore this problem, possibly because they implicitly adopt a sort of subjectivism, whereby an object is defined by the percepts (or more generally by the measurements) it engenders. Subjectivism is unwieldy, and hence prone to such troubles.
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  21. Justin Broackes (2011). Where Do the Unique Hues Come From? Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (4):601-628.
    Where are we to look for the unique hues? Out in the world? In the eye? In more central processing? 1. There are difficulties looking for the structure of the unique hues in simple combinations of cone-response functions like ( L − M ) and ( S − ( L + M )): such functions may fit pretty well the early physiological processing, but they don’t correspond to the structure of unique hues. It may seem more promising to look to, (...)
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  22. Justin Broackes (2003). Do Opponent Process Theories Help Physicalism About Color? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):786-788.
    Byrne & Hilbert (B&H) give some excellent replies to the objections to realism about color. However, the particular form of realism they propose, based on opponent processing, prompts several challenges. Why characterize a color by its tendency to produce an intermediate brain signal, rather than in terms of the final effect – either a perception or a neural substrate for it? At the level of the retina, and even of the cortex, there are processes that partly parallel the structure of (...)
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  23. Justin Broackes (1997). The Nature of Colour. Routledge.
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  24. Berit Brogaard (2012). Colour Eliminativism or Colour Relativism? Philosophical Papers 41 (2):305 - 321.
    Philosophical Papers, Volume 41, Issue 2, Page 305-321, July 2012.
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  25. Andrew Brook & Kathleen Akins (eds.) (2005). Cognition and the Brain: The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement. Cambridge University Press.
    This volume provides an up to date and comprehensive overview of the philosophy and neuroscience movement, which applies the methods of neuroscience to traditional philosophical problems and uses philosophical methods to illuminate issues in neuroscience. At the heart of the movement is the conviction that basic questions about human cognition, many of which have been studied for millennia, can be answered only by a philosophically sophisticated grasp of neuroscience's insights into the processing of information by the human brain. Essays in (...)
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  26. Robert Brown (1969). Contemporary Philosophy in Australia. New York, Humanities P..
    First published in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
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  27. Nicola Bruno & Stephen Westland (2001). Colour Perception May Optimize Biologically Relevant Surface Discriminations – Rather Than Type-I Constancy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (4):658-659.
    Trichromacy may result from an adaptation to the regularities in terrestrial illumination. However, we suggest that a complete characterization of the challenges faced by colour perception must include changes in surface surround and illuminant changes due to inter-reflections between surfaces in cluttered scenes. Furthermore, our trichromatic system may have evolved to allow the detection of brownish-reddish edibles against greenish backgrounds. [Shepard].
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  28. Alex Byrne, Do Colours Look Like Dispositions? A Reply to Langsam Et Al.
    Dispositionalism says that the colours are dispositions to produce certain sorts of experiences in perceivers—that colours are secondary qualities, on one use of that term. Recently dispositionalism has been under attack on the ground that “colours do not look like dispositions” (Dancy 1986, Boghossian and Velleman 1989, McGinn 1996; see also McGinn 1983, 132-6, and Johnston 19921). In response, Langsam has argued that, on the contrary, “colours d o look like dispositions” (2000, 74).2 This note makes three claims. First, neither (...)
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  29. Alex Byrne (2007). Truest Blue. Analysis 67 (293):87-92.
    1. The “puzzle” 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 (...)
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  30. Alex Byrne (2006). Comments on Cohen, Mizrahi, Maund, and Levine. Dialectica 60:223-244.
    Cohen begins by defining ‘Color Physicalism’ so that the position is incompatible with Color Relationalism (unlike Byrne and Hilbert 2003, 7, and note 18). Physicalism, in any event, is something of a distraction, since Cohen’s argument from perceptual variation is directed against any view on which minor color misperception is common (Byrne and Hilbert 2004). A typical color primitivist, for example, is equally vulnerable to the argument. Suppose that normal human observers S1 and S2 are viewing a chip C, as (...)
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  31. Alex Byrne (2004). Consciousness, Color, and Content. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (1):245-247.
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  32. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2011). Are Colors Secondary Qualities? In Lawrence Nolan (ed.), Primary and Secondary Qualities: The Historical and Ongoing Debate. Oxford University Press.
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  33. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2011). Are Colors Secondary Qualities? In L. Nolan (ed.), Primary and Secondary Qualities. Oxford.
    The Dangerous Book for Boys Abstract: Seventeenth and eighteenth century discussions of the senses are often thought to contain a profound truth: some perceptible properties are secondary qualities, dispositions to produce certain sorts of experiences in perceivers. In particular, colors are secondary qualities: for example, an object is green iff it is disposed to look green to standard perceivers in standard conditions. After rebutting Boghossian and Velleman’s argument that a certain kind of secondary quality theory is viciously circular, we discuss (...)
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  34. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2004). Hardin, Tye, and Color Physicalism. Journal of Philosophy 101 (1):37-43.
    Larry Hardin has been the most steadfast and influential critic of physicalist theories of color over the last 20 years. In their modern form these theories originated with the work of Smart and Armstrong in the 1960s and 1970s1 and Hardin appropriately concentrated on their views in his initial critique of physicalism.2 In his most recent contribution to this project3 he attacks Michael Tye’s recent attempts to defend and extend color physicalism.4 Like Byrne and Hilbert5, Tye identifies color with the (...)
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  35. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2003). Color Realism Revisited. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):791-793.
    Our reply is in four parts. The first part, R1, addresses objections to our claim that there might be “unknowable” color facts. The second part, R2, discusses the use we make of opponent process theory. The third part, R3, examines the question of whether colors are causes. The fourth part, R4, takes up some issues concerning the content of visual experience.
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  36. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (eds.) (1997). The Philosophy of Color. The Mit Press.
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  37. John Campbell (2006). Manipulating Colour: Pounding an Almond. In T. S. Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience. Oup. 31--48.
    It seems a compelling idea that experience of colour plays some role in our having concepts of the various colours, but in trying to explain the role experience plays the first thing we have to describe is what sort of colour experience matters here. I will argue that the kind of experience that matters is conscious attention to the colours of objects as an aspect of them on which direct intervention is selectively possible. As I will explain this idea, it (...)
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  38. K. Campbell (1982). The Implications of Land's Theory of Colour Vision. In L. Jonathan Cohen (ed.), Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science. Elsevier.
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  39. K. Campbell (1969). Colours. In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy in Australia. Humanities Press.
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  40. Keith Campbell (2001). The Quest for Reality; Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (3):443 – 444.
    Book Information The Quest for Reality; Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour. The Quest for Reality; Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour Barry Stroud New York Oxford University Press 2000 xv + 228 Hardback By Barry Stroud . Oxford University Press. New York. Pp. xv + 228. Hardback:.
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  41. Elof A. Carlson (2002). Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research Vol LXXVII. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Pub.
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  42. Elof A. Carlson (2002). Color Perception: An Ongoing Convergence of Reductionism and Phenomenology. In Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research Vol Lxxvii. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Pub.
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  43. James J. Clark (2003). Ecological Considerations Support Color Physicalism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):24-25.
    We argue that any theory of color physicalism must include consideration of ecological interactions. Ecological and sensorimotor contingencies resulting from relative surface motion and observer motion give rise to measurable effects on the spectrum of light reflecting from surfaces. These contingencies define invariant manifolds in a sensory-spatial space, which is the physical underpinning of all subjective color experiences.
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  44. J. R. Clarke (2001). Colours in Conflict: Catullus' Use of Colour Imagery in C.631. Classical Quarterly 51 (1):163-177.
  45. Jonathan Cohen (2005). Colors, Functions, Realizers, and Roles. Philosophical Topics 33 (1):117-140.
    Who could forget the great functionalism debates in 1970s and 1980s philosophy of mind? Certainly not philosophers of perception, many of whom have recently proposed understanding colors in various functionalist terms. Perhaps inevitably, many of these theorists have followed an argumentative strategy used earlier in philosophy of mind applications of functionalism: they have urged that general considerations about causal efficacy can be used to decide in favor of realizer rather than role versions of functionalism. Speaking for myself, I was not (...)
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  46. Jonathan Cohen (1999). Why Asymmetries in Color Space Cannot Save Functionalism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (6):950-950.
    Palmer's strategy of saving functionalism by constraining spectrum inversions cannot succeed because (1) there remain many nontrivial transformations not ruled out by Palmer's constraints, and (2) the constraints involved are due to the contingent makeup of our visual systems, and are therefore not available for use by functionalists.
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  47. L. Jonathan Cohen (ed.) (1982). Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science Vi: Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, Hannover, 1979. Sole Distributors for the U.S.A. And Canada, Elsevier North-Holland.
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  48. Frans W. Cornelissen, Eli Brenner & Jeroen Smeets (2003). True Color Only Exists in the Eye of the Observer. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):26-27.
    The colors we perceive are the outcome of an attempt to meaningfully order the spectral information from the environment. These colors are not the result of a straightforward mapping of a physical property to a sensation, but arise from an interaction between our environment and our visual system. Thus, although one may infer from a surface’ reflectance characteristics that it will be perceived as “colored,” true colors only arise by virtue of the interaction of the reflected light with the eye (...)
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  49. Alan Costall (1997). “Colour Science” and the Autonomy of Colour. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20 (2):185-185.
    At the close of their searching critique, Saunders & van Brakel raise, but do not address, the question: There are two distinct traditions of colour research, one based on disembodied coloured lights and another on surface colour. The coherence and integrity of both these traditions are challenged by the nonautonomy of colour.
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  50. Tim Crane (2008). Causation and Determinable Properties : On the Efficacy of Colour, Shape, and Size. In Jakob Hohwy & Jesper Kallestrup (eds.), Being Reduced: New Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and Causation. Oxford University Press.
    This paper presents a puzzle or antinomy about the role of properties in causation. In theories of properties, a distinction is often made between determinable properties, like red, and their determinates, like scarlet (see Armstrong 1978, volume II). Sometimes determinable properties are cited in causal explanations, as when we say that someone stopped at the traffic light because it was red. If we accept that properties can be among the relata of causation, then it can be argued that there are (...)
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