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Summary Primitivist theories of color hold that the colors are primitive properties, not susceptible of further analysis. In particular, they cannot be identified with physical properties or dispositions to produce effects in perceivers. Primitivism is thus incompatible with physicalist and dispositionalist theories of color. Primitivism comes in two main varieties, realist and irrealist (or eliminativist). Realist primitivism holds that physical objects possess the primitive colors; irrealist primitivism hold that they do not. One objection to realist primitivism is that it leaves the colors with no causal role to play, since other properties of objects explain why they look colored.
Key works For defenses of realist primitivism, see Campbell 1993 and Yablo 1995. For irrealist primitivism see Chalmers 2006. Criticisms of both varieties of primitivism are in Byrne & Hilbert 2006.
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 (2011). Revelation and the Nature of Colour. Dialectica 65 (2):153-176.
    According to naïve realist (or primitivist) theories of colour, colours are sui generis mind-independent properties. The question that I consider in this paper is the relationship of naïve realism to what Mark Johnston calls Revelation, the thesis that the essential nature of colour is fully revealed in a standard visual experience. In the first part of the paper, I argue that if naïve realism is true, then Revelation is false. In the second part of the paper, I defend naïve realism (...)
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  3. Clare Batty, Naive Color.
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  4. Justin Broackes (1992). The Autonomy of Colour. In K. Lennon & D. Charles (eds.), Reduction, Explanation, and Realism. Oxford University Press. 191-225.
    This essay* takes two notions of autonomy and two notions of explanation and argues that colours occur in explanations that fall under all of them. The claim that colours can be used to explain anything at all may seem to some people an outrage. But their pessimism is unjustified and the orthodox dispositional view which may seem to support it, I shall argue, itself has difficulties. In broad terms, Section 2 shows that there exist good straight scientific laws of colour, (...)
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  5. Berit Brogaard (2010). Perspectival Truth and Color Primitivism. In Cory D. Wright & Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen (eds.), New Waves in Truth. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Perspectivalism is a semantic theory according to which the contents of utterances and mental states (perhaps of a particular kind) have a truth-value only relative to a particular perspective (or standard) determined by the context of the speaker, assessor, or bearer of the mental state. I have defended this view for epistemic terms, moral terms and predicates of personal taste elsewhere (Brogaard 2008a, 2008b, forthcoming a). The main aim of this paper is to defend perspectivalism about color perception and color (...)
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  6. Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (2006). Color Primitivism. In Ralph Schumacher (ed.), Perception and Status of Secondary Qualities. Kluwer. 73 - 105.
    The realist preference for reductive theories of color over the last few decades is particularly striking in light of the generally anti-reductionist mood of recent philosophy of mind. The parallels between the mind-body problem and the case of color are substantial enough that the difference in trajectory is surprising. While dualism and non-.
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  7. John Campbell (1997). The Simple View of Colour. In Alex Byrne & David Hilbert (eds.), Readings on Color. Mit Press. 177-90.
    Physics tells us what is objectively there. It has no place for the colours of things. So colours are not objectively there. Hence, if there is such a thing at all, colour is mind-dependent. This argument forms the background to disputes over whether common sense makes a mistake about colours. It is assumed that..
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  8. John Campbell (1993). A Simple View of Colour. In John J. Haldane & C. Wright (eds.), Reality: Representation and Projection. Oup. 257-268.
    Physics tells us what is objectively there. It has no place for the colours of things. So colours are not objectively there. Hence, if there is such a thing at all, colour is mind-dependent. This argument forms the background to disputes over whether common sense makes a mistake about colours. It is assumed that..
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  9. Jonathan Cohen (2010). It's Not Easy Being Green : Hardin and Color Relationalism. In Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. Mit Press.
    But Hardin hasn’t contented himself with reframing traditional philosoph- ical issues about color in a way that is sensitive to relevant empirical con- straints. In addition, he has been a staunch defender of color eliminativism — the view that there are no colors, qua properties of tables, chairs, and other mind-external objects, and a vociferous critic of several varieties of re- alism about color that have been defended by others (e.g., [Hardin, 2003], [Hardin, 2005]). These other views include the so-called (...)
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  10. 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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  11. G. de Anna (2002). The Simple View of Colour and the Reference of Perceptual Terms. Philosophy 77 (299):87-108.
    This essay deals with the problem of the status of colours, traditionally considered as the paradigmatic case of secondary qualities: do colours exist only as aspects of experience or are they real properties of objects, existing independently of human and animal perception? Recently, John Campbell has argued in favour of the simple view of colours, according to which colours are real properties of objects. I discuss the place of Campbell's position in a debated which was started by John Mackie and (...)
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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. J. Edwards (2003). A Reply to de Anna on the Simple View of Colour. Philosophy 78 (303):99-114.
    John Campbell proposed a so-called simple view of colours according to which colours are categorical properties of the surfaces of objects just as they normally appear to be. I raised an invertion problem for Campbell's view according to which the senses of colour terms fail to match their references, thus rendering those terms meaningless—or so I claimed. Gabriele de Anna defended Campbell's view against my example by contesting two points in particular. Firstly, de Anna claimed that there is no special (...)
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  14. John Gardner, What It is Like to Perceive Colour.
    I argue that the knowledge argument is best understood as an argument for the existence of non-physical properties of material objects, or colours. I suggest that the knowledge argument is standardly presented as an argument for the existence of qualia because it is implicitly assumed that physics “tell us” that what it is like to perceive colour is determined, not by properties of material objects, but by properties of perceiving subjects; hence any gaps in Mary’s knowledge must be gaps in (...)
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  15. John Haldane & Crispin Wright (eds.) (1993). Reality, Representation, and Projection. Oxford University Press.
    This book is an important collection of new essays on various topics relating to realism and its rivals in metaphysics, logic, metaethics, and epistemology. The contributors include some of the leading authors in these fields and in several cases their essays constitute definitive statements of their views. In some cases authors write in response to the essays of other contributors, in other cases they proceed independently. Although not primarily historical this collection includes discussions of philosophers from the middle ages to (...)
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  16. David R. Hilbert & Alex Byrne (2007). Color Primitivism. Erkenntnis 66 (1/2):73 - 105.
    The typical kind of color realism is reductive: the color properties are identified with properties specified in other terms (as ways of altering light, for instance). If no reductive analysis is available — if the colors are primitive sui generis properties — this is often taken to be a convincing argument for eliminativism. That is, realist primitivism is usually thought to be untenable. The realist preference for reductive theories of color over the last few decades is particularly striking in light (...)
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  17. K. Lennon & D. Charles (eds.) (1992). Reduction, Explanation, and Realism. Oxford University Press.
    Reduction has long been a favourite method of analysis in all areas of philosophy, but in recent years there has been a reaction against it. The contributors to this volume examine the motivations for such anti-reductionist views and assess their coherence and success in a number of fields.
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  18. Mohan Matthen (2010). Color Experience: A Semantic Theory. In Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press. 67--90.
    What is the relationship between color experience and color? Here, I defend the view that it is semantic: color experience denotes color in a code innately known by the perceiver. This semantic theory contrasts with a variety of theories according to which color is defined as the cause of color experience (in a special set of circumstances). It also contrasts with primary quality theories of color, which treat color as a physical quantity. I argue that the semantic theory better accounts (...)
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  19. Ralph Schumacher (ed.) (forthcoming). Perception and Status of Secondary Qualities. Kluwer.
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  20. Clive Stroud-Drinkwater (1994). The Naive Theory of Color. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (2):345-54.
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  21. Michael Watkins (2010). A Posteriori Primitivism. Philosophical Studies 150 (1):123 - 137.
    Recent criticisms of non-reductive accounts of color assume that the only arguments for such accounts are a priori arguments. I put forward a posteriori arguments for a non-reductive account of colors which avoids those criticisms.
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  22. Jonathan Westphal (1991). Colour: A Philosophical Introduction. Blackwell.