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Summary Physicalist theories of color identify colors with physical properties. Candidates for such properties include ways of altering incident light, and the categorical grounds of dispositions to look colored. An important objection to color physicalism is that it cannot account for similarity relations among the colors, and the distinction between the unique and binary hues. 
Key works For early versions of physicalism, see Smart 1975 and Armstrong 1987. Hilbert 1987 is defense of "reflectance physicalism", the view that colors are surface spectral reflectances. Other defenses of physicalism are in Jackson 1996 and Byrne & Hilbert 2003. For some central criticisms, see Boghossian & Velleman 1991 and Hardin 1988.
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. David M. Armstrong (1969). Colour Realism and the Argument From Microscopes. In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy in Australia. Humanities Press. 301-323.
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  2. V. Arstila (2003). True Colors, False Theories. Australian Journal of Philosophy 81 (1):41-61.
    The question of the constituting nature of colour is largely open. The old dispute between colour objectivism and colour subjectivism is still relevant. The former has defended itself against accusations of not being able to explain colour structures, while the latter view has received criticism for not being able to provide a plausible theory of the location of colours. By weakening the notion of physical categories, making some of them perceiver-depended, colour objectivists have managed to overcome at least some of (...)
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  3. 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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  4. Paul A. Boghossian & J. David Velleman (1991). Physicalist Theories of Color. Philosophical Review 100 (January):67-106.
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  5. Andrew Botterell (2003). Colors as Explainers? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):785-786.
    Byrne & Hilbert (B&H) argue that colors are reflectance properties of objects. They also claim that a necessary condition for something's being a color is that it causally explain – or be causally implicated in the explanation of – our perceptions of color. I argue that these two positions are in conflict.
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  6. Peter Bradley & Michael Tye (2001). Of Colors, Kestrels, Caterpillars, and Leaves. Journal of Philosophy 98 (9):469-487.
    According to color realism, object colors are mind-independent properties that cover surfaces or permeate volumes of objects. In recent years, some color scientists and a growing number of philosophers have opposed this view on the grounds that realism about color cannot accommodate the apparent unitary/binary structure of the hues. For example, Larry Hardin asserts,
    the unitary-binary structure of the colors as we experience them
    corresponds to no known physical structure lying outside nervous
    systems that is causally involved (...)
    Similarly, Evan Thompson says. (shrink)
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  7. 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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  8. Alex Byrne, Authors' Response Continuing Commentary on Color Realism and Color Science ".
    Our reply is in four parts. The first part addresses objections to our claim that there might be "unknowable" color facts. The second part discusses the use we make of opponent process theory. The third part examines the question of whether colors are causes. The fourth part takes up some issues concerning the content of visual experience. Our target article had three aims: (a) to explain clearly the structure of the debate about color realism; (b) to introduce an interdisciplinary audience (...)
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  9. 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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  10. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2003). Color Realism and Color Science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):3-21.
    The target article is an attempt to make some progress on the problem of color realism. Are objects colored? And what is the nature of the color properties? We defend the view that physical objects (for instance, tomatoes, radishes, and rubies) are colored, and that colors are physical properties, specifically types of reflectance. This is probably a minority opinion, at least among color scientists. Textbooks frequently claim that physical objects are not colored, and that the colors are "subjective" or "in (...)
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  11. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2003). Color Realism Redux. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):52-59.
    Our reply is in three parts. The first part concerns some foundational issues in the debate about color realism. The second part addresses the many objections to the version of physicalism about color ("productance physicalism") defended in the target article. The third part discusses the leading alternative approaches and theories endorsed by the commentators.
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  12. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (1997). Readings on Color, Volume 1: The Philosophy of Color. MIT Press.
  13. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (1997). Colors and Reflectances. In Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (eds.), Readings on Color, Volume 1: The Philosophy of Color. Mit Press.
    When we open our eyes, the world seems full of colored opaque objects, light sources, and transparent volumes. One historically popular view, _eliminativism_, is that the world is not in this respect as it appears to be: nothing has any color. Color _realism_, the denial of eliminativism, comes in three mutually exclusive varieties, which may be taken to exhaust the space of plausible realist theories. Acccording to _dispositionalism_, colors are _psychological_ dispositions: dispositions to produce certain kinds of visual experiences. According (...)
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  14. Charles L. Y. Cheng (ed.) (1975). Philosophical Aspects of the Mind-Body Problem. Hawaii University Press.
  15. 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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  16. Jonathan Cohen (2006). Color and Perceptual Variation Revisited: Unknown Facts, Alien Modalities, and Perfect Psychosemantics. Dialectica 60 (3):307-319.
    An adequate ontology of color must face the empirical facts about per- ceptual variation. In this paper I begin by reviewing a range of data about perceptual variation, and showing how they tell against color physicalism and motivate color relationalism. Next I consider a series of objections to the argument from perceptual variation, and argue that they are un- persuasive. My conclusion will be that the argument remains a powerful obstacle for color physicalism, and a powerful reason to believe in (...)
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  17. Jonathan Cohen (2006). Color, Variation, and the Appeal to Essences: Impasse and Resolution. Philosophical Studies 133 (3):425-438.
    Many philosophers have been attracted by the view that colors are mind- independent properties of object surfaces. A leading, and increasingly popular, version of this view that has been defended in recent years is the so-called physicalist position that identi?es colors with (classes of) spectral re?ectance distributions.1 This view, has, however, come in for a fair bit of criticism for failing to do justice to the facts about perceptual variation.2.
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  18. Jonathan Cohen (2003). Perceptual Variation, Realism, and Relativization, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Variations in Color Vision. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):25-26.
    In many cases of variation in color vision, there is no non-arbitrary way of choosing between variants. Byrne and Hilbert insist that there is an unknown standard for choosing, while eliminativists claim that all the variants are erroneous. A better response relativizes colors to perceivers, thereby providing a color realism that avoids the need to choose between variants.
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  19. 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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  20. Will Davies (2014). The Inscrutability of Colour Similarity. Philosophical Studies 171 (2):289-311.
    This paper presents a new response to the colour similarity argument, an argument that many people take to pose the greatest threat to colour physicalism. The colour similarity argument assumes that if colour physicalism is true, then colour similarities should be scrutable under standard physical descriptions of surface reflectance properties such as their spectral reflectance curves. Given this assumption, our evident failure to find such similarities at the reducing level seemingly proves fatal to colour physicalism. I argue that we should (...)
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  21. Don Dedrick (1995). Objectivism and the Evolutionary Value of Color Vision. Dialogue 34 (1):35-44.
    In Color for Philosophers C. L. Hardin argues that chromatic objectivism?a view which identifies colour with some or other property of objects?must be false. The upshot of Hardin's argument is this: there is, in fact, no principled correlation between physical properties and perceived colours. Since that correlation is a minimal condition for objectivism, objectivism is false. Mohan Matthen, who accepts Hardin's conclusion for what can be called "simple objectivism," takes it that an adaptationist theory of biological function applied to colour (...)
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  22. Daniel C. Dennett (2003). Forestalling a Food Fight Over Color. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):788-789.
    Byrne and Hilbert provide valuable clarification of the complexities–undreamt of by the layman–that make it hard to answer the question of what color is, and that often lead color scientists to say such remarkable and extravagant things. They emphasize at the outset that their issue is not just how to define the ordinary language term “color”: “The problem of color realism is like the investigation of what humans can digest, not the investigation of the folk category of food.” [ms p4], (...)
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  23. 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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  24. Kathrin Glüer (2007). Colors Without Circles? Erkenntnis 66 (1-2):107--131.
    Realists about color, be they dispositionalists or physicalists, agree on the truth of the following claim: (R) x is red iff x is disposed to look red under standard conditions. The disagreement is only about whether to identify the colors with the relevant dispositions, or with their categorical bases. This is a question about the representational content of color experience: What kind of properties do color experiences ascribe to objects? It has been argued (for instance by Boghossian and Velleman, 1991) (...)
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  25. Mario Gomez-Torrente (2011). Kripke on Color Words and the Primary-Secondary Quality Distinction. In Alan Berger (ed.), Saul Kripke. Cambridge University Press. 290-323.
  26. Richard E. Grandy (1989). A Modern Inquiry Into the Physical Property of Colors in Mind, Value and Culture. In David Weissbord (ed.), Mind, Value, and Culture: Essays in Honor of E. M. Adams. Atascadero: Ridgeview.
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  27. C. L. Hardin (2003). A Spectral Reflectance Doth Not a Color Make. Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.
  28. Gary Hatfield (2003). Objectivity and Subjectivity Revisited: Colour as a Psychobiological Property. In Rainer Mausfeld & Dieter Heyer (eds.), Colour Perception: Mind and the Physical World. Oxford University Press. 187--202.
  29. Dieter Heyer & Rainer Mausfeld (eds.) (2002). Perception and the Physical World. Wiley.
  30. David R. Hilbert (1987). Color and Color Perception: A Study in Anthropocentric Realism. Csli Press.
  31. Scott Huettel (2003). In Favor of an Ecological Account of Color. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):33-33.
    B&H understate the difficulties facing their version of color realism. We doubt that they can fix reflectance types and magnitudes in a way that does not invoke relations to perceivers. B&HÂ’s account therefore resembles the dispositional or ecological accounts that they dismiss. This is a good thing, for a dispositional account is promising if understood in an ecological framework.
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  32. Frank Jackson (2003). Color and Content. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):34-34.
    Those who identify colours with physical properties need to say how the content of colour experiences relate to their favoured identifications. This is because it is not plausible to hold that colour experiences represent things as having the physical properties in question. I sketch how physical realists about colour might tackle this item of unfinished business.
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  33. Frank Jackson (1996). The Primary Quality View of Color. Philosophical Perspectives 10:199-219.
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  34. Barry Maund (2003). Clarifying the Problem of Color Realism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):40-41.
    “The problem of color realism” as defined in the first section of the target article, is crucial to the argument laid out by Byrne & Hilbert. They claim that the problem of color realism “does not concern, at least in the first instance, color language or color concepts” (sect. 1.1). I argue that this claim is misconceived and that a different characterisation of the problem, and some of their preliminary assumptions makes their positive proposal less appealing.
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  35. Rainer Mausfeld (2010). Color Within an Internalist Framework : The Role of Color in the Structure of the Perceptual System. In Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. Mit Press.
  36. Rainer Mausfeld (2002). The Physicalistic Trap in Perception Theory. In Dieter Heyer & Rainer Mausfeld (eds.), Perception and the Physical World. Wiley.
  37. Rainer Mausfeld (1997). Why Bother About Opponency? Our Theoretical Ideas on Elementary Colour Coding Have Changed Our Language of Experience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20 (2):203-203.
    There is no natural and pretheoretical classification of colour appearances into hue, saturation, brightness, unique hues, and so on. Rather, our theoretical insights into the coding of colour have reciprocally shaped the way we talk about colour appearances. Opponency is only one of many fundamental aspects of colour coding, and we are hardly justified in ascribing some theoretical prominance to it.
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  38. Rainer Mausfeld & Reinhard Niederée (2003). Can a Physicalist Notion of Color Provide Any Insight Into the Nature of Color Perception? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):41-42.
    Byrne & Hilbert (B&H) conceive of color perception as the representation of a physical property “out there.” In our view, their approach does not only have various internal problems, but is also apt to becloud both the intricate and still poorly understood role that “color” plays within perceptual architecture, and the complex coupling to the “external world” of the perceptual system as an entirety. We propose an alternative perspective, which avoids B&H's misleading dichotomy between a purely subjective and (...)
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  39. Duncan McFarland & Alexander Miller (1998). Jackson on Colour as a Primary Quality. Analysis 58 (2):76-85.
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  40. Eli Mintz, A PHYSICALIST RELATIONIST THEORY OF COLOR.
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  41. Vivian Mizrahi (2010). Color and Transparency. Rivista di Estetica 43 (1):181-192.
    In this paper I argue that all transparent objects are colorless. This thesis is important for at least three reasons. First, if transparent objects are colorless, there is no need to distinguish between colors which characterize three-dimensional bodies, like transparent colors, and colors which lie on the surface of objects. Second, traditional objections against color physicalism relying on transparent colors are rendered moot. Finally, an improved understanding of the relations between colors, light and transparency is provided.
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  42. Vivian Mizrahi (2006). Color Objectivism and Color Pluralism. Dialectica 60 (3):283-306.
    Most objectivist and dispositionalist theories of color have tried to resolve the challenge raised by color variations by drawing a distinction between real and apparent colors. This paper considers such a strategy to be fundamentally erroneous. The high degree of variability of colors constitutes a crucial feature of colors and color perception; it cannot be avoided without leaving aside the real nature of color. The objectivist theory of color defended in this paper holds that objects have locally many different objective (...)
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  43. Vivian Mizrahi & Martine Nida-Rumelin (2006). Introduction. Dialectica 60 (3):209-222.
  44. Robert Pasnau (2009). The Event of Color. Philosophical Studies 142 (3):353 - 369.
    When objects are illuminated, the light they reflect does not simply bounce off their surface. Rather, that light is entirely reabsorbed and then reemitted, as the result of a complex microphysical event near the surface of the object. If we are to be physicalists regarding color, then we should analyze colors in terms of that event, just as we analyze heat in terms of molecular motion, and sound in terms of vibrations. On this account, colors are not standing properties of (...)
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  45. 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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  46. Thomas W. Polger, True Colors: A Problem for Tye's Color Realism.
    Michael Tye has recently been a vocal defender of color realism or, as I shall call it, color objectivism. Objectivism about color is the view that color properties are identical to intrinsic physical properties of the surfaces of objects. Subjectivism about color is the denial of color objectivism. Objectivists argue that color claims must be taken at face value. In this paper I forego the usual bickering about whether there are surface reflectance properties that can be identified with colors as (...)
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  47. P. Ross (2000). The Relativity of Color. Synthese 123 (1):105-130.
    C. L. Hardin led a recent development in the philosophical literature on color in which research from visual science is used to argue that colors are not properties of physical objects, but rather are mental processes. I defend J. J. C. Smart''s physicalism, which claims that colors are physical properties of objects, against this attack. Assuming that every object has a single veridical (that is, nonillusory) color, it seems that physicalism must give a specification of veridical color in terms natural (...)
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  48. Peter W. Ross (2010). Fitting Color Into the Physical World. Philosophical Psychology 23 (5):575-599.
    I propose a strategy for a metaphysical reduction of perceived color, that is, an identification of perceived color with properties characterizable in non-qualitative terms. According to this strategy, a description of visual experience of color, which incorporates a description of the appearance of color, is a reference-fixing description. This strategy both takes color appearance seriously in its primary epistemic role and avoids rendering color as metaphysically mysterious. I’ll also argue that given this strategy, a plausible account of perceived color claims (...)
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  49. Peter W. Ross (2003). Physicalism Without Unknowable Colors. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):789-789.
    Byrne & Hilbert (2003; henceforth B&H) do not adequately explain how it is that phenomenal colors are physical, as their physicalism claims. This explanation requires more characterization of the relationship between the epistemology and nature of color than B&H provide. With this characterization, we can see that a physicalist need not accept unknowable color facts, as B&H do.
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  50. Peter W. Ross (1999). The Appearance and Nature of Color. Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 (2):227-252.
    The problem of the nature of color is typically put in terms of the following question about the intentional content of visual experiences: what’s the nature of the property we attribute to physical objects in virtue of our visual experiences of color? This problem has proven to be tenacious largely because it’s not clear what the constraints are for an answer. With no clarity about constraints, the proposed solutions range widely, the most common dividing into subjectivist views which hold that (...)
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