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 & Nidditch 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. Simultaneous Color Constancy.Lawrence Arend & Adam Reeves - 1986 - J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 3 (10):1743-1751.
    Observers matched patches (simulated Munsell papers) in two simultaneously presented computer-controlled displays, a standard array presented under 6500-K illumination and a test array under 4000 or 10,000 K. Adaptation to the test illuminants was limited. The adjusted patch was surrounded by a single color (annulus display) or by many colors (Mondrian display). Observers either matched hue and saturation or made surface-color (paper) matches in which the subject was asked to make the test patch look as if it were cut from (...)
  2. Color Eliminativism and Intuitions About Colors.Valtteri Arstila - 2010 - 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 (...)
  3. The Phenomenological Character of Color Perception.Edward Averill - 2012 - 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 (...)
  4. The Influence of Past Associations Upon Attributive Color Judgments.Katherine E. Baker & Irene Mackintosh - 1955 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 49 (4):281.
  5. The Projective Theory of Sensory Content.Thomas Baldwin - 1992 - In Tim Crane (ed.), The Contents of Experience. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Bilder Im Geiste.Laura Berchielli (ed.) - 1995 - 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 (...)
  7. Representing Color: Discussions and Problems.Laura Berchielli - 1995 - In Bilder Im Geiste. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  8. Color, Qualia, and Psychophysical Constraints on Equivalence of Color Experience.Vincent A. Billock & Brian H. Tsou - 2004 - 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.
  9. Color Constancy: A Case for Multiple Levels and Paradigms.Michael H. Brill - 2001 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (4):658-658.
    Shepard claims that color constancy needs linear basis-function spectra, and infers the illuminant before removing its dependency. However, of the models of color constancy that have exact (and reasonable) spectral regimes, some do not need linear basis-function expansions of reflectance and illuminant spectra, some do not solve for the illuminant, and some estimate only partial object-reflectance information for single or multiple objects. [Shepard].
  10. Color Categorization.Robert Briscoe - forthcoming - In Derek Brown & Fiona Macpherson (eds.), Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Colour. Routledge.
  11. Perceptual Content and Monadic Truth: On Cappelen and Hawthorne's Relativism and Monadic Truth.Berit Brogaard - 2009 - 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.
  12. Seeing Mathematics: Perception and Brain Activity in a Case of Acquired Synesthesia.Berit Brogaard, Simo Vanni & Juha Silvanto - forthcoming - 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 (...)
  13. Locating Projectivism in Intentionalism Debates.Derek H. Brown - 2010 - 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 (...)
  14. Background and Illuminants: The Yin and Yang of Colour Constancy.R. O. Brown - 2003 - In Rainer Mausfeld & Dieter Heyer (eds.), Colour Perception: Mind and the Physical World. Oxford University Press. pp. 247--272.
  15. Transparency Vs. Revelation in Color Perception.John Campbell - 2005 - 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 (...)
  16. Perception and the Fall From Eden.David J. Chalmers - 2006 - In Tamar S. Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience. Oxford University Press. pp. 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.
  17. Indiscriminable Shades and Demonstrative Concepts.Philippe Chuard - 2007 - 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 (...)
  18. Chimerical Colors: Some Phenomenological Predictions From Cognitive Neuroscience.Paul M. Churchland - 2005 - 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 (...)
  19. Color Relationalism and Color Phenomenology.Jonathan Cohen - 2010 - In Bence Nanay (ed.), Perceiving the World. Oxford University Press. pp. 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, (...)
  20. The Red and the Real: An Essay on Color Ontology.Jonathan Cohen - 2009 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Color provides an instance of a general puzzle about how to reconcile the picture of the world given to us by our ordinary experience with the picture of the world given to us by our best theoretical accounts. The Red and the Real offers a new approach to such longstanding philosophical puzzles about what colors are and how they fit into nature. It is responsive to a broad range of constraints --- both the ordinary constraints of color experience and the (...)
  21. The Truth About 'the Truth About True Blue'.Jonathan Cohen, C. L. Hardin & Brian P. McLaughlin - 2007 - 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 (...)
  22. Color Ontology and Color Science.Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.) - 2010 - Bradford.
    Philosophers and scientists have long speculated about the nature of color. Atomists such as Democritus thought color to be "conventional," not real; Galileo and other key figures of the Scientific Revolution thought that it was an erroneous projection of our own sensations onto external objects. More recently, philosophers have enriched the debate about color by aligning the most advanced color science with the most sophisticated methods of analytical philosophy. In this volume, leading scientists and philosophers examine new problems with new (...)
  23. Introduction.Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen - 2010 - 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.
  24. Does Perception Outstrip Our Concepts in Fineness of Grain?Kevin Connolly - 2011 - 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 (...)
  25. Colour Constancy, Illumination, and Matching.Will Davies - forthcoming - 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 (...)
  26. Colour Vision and Seeing Colours.Will Davies - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axw026.
    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 (...)
  27. Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic, and Computational Perspectives.Davis Steven (ed.) - 2000 - 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 (...)
  28. Qualia Compression.Lieven Decock & Igor Douven - 2013 - 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 (...)
  29. The Structure of Color Experience and the Existence of Surface Colors.Jan Degenaar & Erik Myin - 2013 - 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 (...)
  30. Invisible Disagreement: An Inverted Qualia Argument for Realism.Justin Donhauser - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 174 (3):593-606.
    Scientific realists argue that a good track record of multi-agent, and multiple method, validation of empirical claims is itself evidence that those claims, at least partially and approximately, reflect ways nature actually is independent of the ways we conceptualize it. Constructivists contend that successes in validating empirical claims only suffice to establish that our ways of modelling the world, our “constructions,” are useful and adequate for beings like us. This essay presents a thought experiment in which beings like us intersubjectively (...)
  31. Colour Resemblance and Colour Realism.Fabian Dorsch - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 50 (43):85-108.
    One prominent ambition of theories of colour is to pay full justice to how colours are subjectively given to us; and another to reconcile this first-personal perspective on colours with the third-personal one of the natural sciences. The goal of this article is to question whether we can satisfy the second ambition on the assumption that the first should and can be met. I aim to defend a negative answer to this question by arguing that the various kinds of experienced (...)
  32. The Content of Color Experience. [REVIEW]Frances Egan - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):407–414.
  33. The Multiply Qualitative.Mark Eli Kalderon - manuscript
    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 (...)
  34. On the Understanding of Color in Painting.Eugene Clinton Elliott - 1958 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 16 (4):453-470.
  35. Sensory Representation and Cognitive Architecture: An Alternative to Phenomenal Concepts.Peter Fazekas & Zoltán Jakab - manuscript
    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 (...)
  36. Color Representations as Hash Values.Justin C. Fisher - manuscript
    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?
  37. Hume and the Missing Shade of Blue.Robert J. Fogelin - 1984 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 45 (December):263-272.
  38. Why Afterimages Are Metaphysically Mysterious.Bryan Frances - forthcoming - Think.
  39. Are Color Experiences Representational?Todd Ganson - 2013 - 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. (...)
  40. Colors and the Content of Color Experience.Kathrin Glüer - 2012 - 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 (...)
  41. A Computational Analysis of Colour Constancy.MacLeod & Golz - 2003 - In Rainer Mausfeld & Dieter Heyer (eds.), Colour Perception: Mind and the Physical World. Oxford University Press.
  42. Objectivism About Color and Comparative Color Statements. Reply to Hansen.Mario Gómez‐Torrente - 2015 - Noûs 50 (4).
    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.
  43. Perceptual Variation, Color Language, and Reference Fixing. An Objectivist Account.Mario Gómez‐Torrente - 2014 - 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. (...)
  44. Sound, Color, and Self-Organization.Herbert Guenther - 1998 - 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 (...)
  45. Wasser: Das Meer Und Die Brunnen, Die Flüsse Und der Regen.Ute Guzzoni - 2005 - Parerga.
  46. Red and Yellow, Green and Blue, Warm and Cool: Explaining Color Appearance.C. L. Hardin - 2000 - 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 (...)
  47. Color Quality and Structure.C. L. Hardin - 1999 - In S. Hameroff, A. Kaszniak & David Chalmers (eds.), Toward a Science of Consciousness Iii: The Third Tucson Discussions and Debates. MIT Press.
  48. Explaining Objective Color in Terms of Subjective Reactions.Gilbert Harman - 1996 - Philosophical Issues 7:1-17.
  49. Qualia and Color Concepts.Gilbert Harman - 1996 - Philosophical Issues 7:75-79.
  50. Noise and Perceptual Indiscriminability.Benj Hellie - 2005 - 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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