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. added 2020-02-19
    How Does Colour Experience Represent the World?Adam Pautz - 2020 - In Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Colour. Routledge.
    Many favor representationalism about color experience. To a first approximation, this view holds that experiencing is like believing. In particular, like believing, experiencing is a matter of representing the world to be a certain way. Once you view color experience along these lines, you face a big question: do our color experiences represent the world as it really is? For instance, suppose you see a tomato. Representationalists claim that having an experience with this sensory character is necessarily connected with representing (...)
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  2. added 2019-08-21
    Is the Eye Like What It Sees? A Critique of Aristotle on Sensing by Assimilation.Mohan Matthen - 2019 - Vivarium 57 (3-4):268-292.
    Aristotle held that perception consists in the reception of external sensory qualities (or sensible forms) in the sensorium. This idea is repeated in many forms in contemporary philosophy, including, with regard to vision, in the idea (still not firmly rejected) that the retinal image consists of points of colour. In fact, this is false. Colour is a quality that is constructed by the visual system, and though it is possible to be a realist about colour, it is completely misleading to (...)
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  3. added 2019-08-02
    Color in a Material World: Margaret Cavendish Against the Early Modern Mechanists.Colin Chamberlain - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (3):293-336.
    Consider the distinctive qualitative property grass visually appears to have when it visually appears to be green. This property is an example of what I call sensuous color. Whereas early modern mechanists typically argue that bodies are not sensuously colored, Margaret Cavendish disagrees. In cases of veridical perception, she holds that grass is green in precisely the way it visually appears to be. In defense of her realist approach to sensuous colors, Cavendish argues that it is impossible to conceive of (...)
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  4. added 2019-07-17
    The Myth of the Common Sense Conception of Color.Zed Adams & Nat Hansen - 2020 - In Asa Maria Wikforss & Teresa Marques (eds.), Shifting Concepts: The Philosophy and Psychology of Conceptual Variability. Oxford University Press.
    Some philosophical theories of the nature of color aim to respect a "common sense" conception of color: aligning with the common sense conception is supposed to speak in favor of a theory and conflicting with it is supposed to speak against a theory. In this paper, we argue that the idea of a "common sense" conception of color that philosophers of color have relied upon is overly simplistic. By drawing on experimental and historical evidence, we show how conceptions of color (...)
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  5. added 2019-06-06
    Reality and Colours: Comment on Stroud.John McDowell - 2004 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):395-400.
    Any brief comment on Barry Stroud’s fine book risks bringing some of its virtues into relief precisely by lacking them. The book’s epigraph is a passage from Wittgenstein advising philosophers to take their time. Stroud never papers over difficulties, and he allows himself to be sketchy only when it does not matter for the main line of his argument. Anyone without space constraints should take him as a model. Pleading space constraints, I shall sketch two reservations.
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  6. added 2019-06-06
    Have Byrne & Hilbert Answered Hardin's Challenge?Adam Pautz - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):44-45.
    I argue that Byrne & 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 B&H, 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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  7. added 2019-04-15
    World to Word: Nomenclature Systems of Color and Species.Tanya Kelley - 2017 - Dissertation, University Of Missouri
    As the digitization of information accelerates, the push to encode our surrounding numerically instead of linguistically increases. The role that language has traditionally played in the nomenclature of an integrative taxonomy is being replaced by the numeric identification of one or few quantitative characteristics. Nineteenth-century scientific systems of color identification divided, grouped, and named colors according to multiple characteristics. Now color identification relies on numeric values applied to spectrographic readings. This means of identification of color lacks the taxonomic rigor of (...)
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  8. added 2019-01-10
    Colour.Laura Gow - 2014 - Philosophy Compass 9 (11):803-813.
    The view that physical objects do not, in fact, possess colour properties is certainly the dominant position amongst scientists working on colour vision. It is also a reasonably popular view amongst philosophers. However, the recent philosophical debate about the metaphysical status of colour properties seems to have taken a more realist turn. In this article, I review the main philosophical views – eliminativism, physicalism, dispositionalism and primitivism – and describe the problems they face. I also examine how these views have (...)
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  9. added 2018-02-17
    Seeking The Real.Paul Boghossian - 2002 - Philosophical Studies 108 (1):223-238.
    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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  10. added 2018-02-16
    Yes, Virginia, Lemons Are Yellow.Alex Byrne - 2002 - Philosophical Studies 108 (1):213-222.
    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 color is "unreal" and the view that it is "subjective"; his argument against the secondary quality theory; his argument against the error theory; and the "disappointing" conclusion of the book.
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  11. added 2017-09-19
    Realism, Relativism, Adverbialism: How Different Are They? Comments on Mazviita Chirimuuta's Outside Color.Mohan Matthen - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95 (1):236-243.
    Mazviita Chirimuuta proposes a new “adverbialist” ontology of color. I argue that ontological disputes in the philosophy of color are uniformly terminological. Chirimuuta's proposal too is a terminological variant on others, though it has some hortatory value in directing attention to aspects of color science that have hitherto been neglected. On a side note, I also take issue with Chirimuuta's laudatory take on early modern theories of color.
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  12. added 2016-12-12
    Truest Blue.A. Byrne & D. R. Hilbert - 2007 - Analysis 67 (1):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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  13. added 2016-12-08
    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 (...)
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  14. added 2016-12-08
    A Spectral Reflectance Doth Not A Color Make.C. L. Hardin - 2003 - Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.
  15. added 2016-12-05
    Perception.Barry Maund - 2003 - Mcgill-Queen's University Press.
    The book includes chapters on forms of natural realism, theories of perceptual experience, representationalism, the argument from illusion, phenomenological senses, types of perceptual content, the representationalist/intentionalist thesis, and adverbialist accounts of perceptual experience. The ideas of Austin, Dretske, Heidegger, Millikan, Putnam, and Robinson are considered among others and the reader is given an invaluable philosophical framework within which to consider the issues.
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  16. added 2016-06-17
    Die Natur der Farben.Fabian Dorsch - 2009 - De Gruyter.
    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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  17. added 2016-03-01
    Color Eliminativism and Intuitions About Colors.Valtteri Arstila - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 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 (...)
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  18. added 2015-09-18
    Color Relationalism, Ordinary Illusion, and Color Incompatibility.Pendaran Roberts - 2014 - Philosophia 42 (4):1085-1097.
    Relationalism is a view popularized by Cohen according to which the colors are relational properties. Cohen’s view has the unintuitive consequence that the following propositions are false: (i) no object can be more than one determinate or determinable color all over at the same time; (ii) ordinary illusion cases occur whenever the color perceptually represented conflicts, according to (i) above, with the object’s real color; and (iii) the colors we perceive obey (i). I investigate Cohen’s attempt to address these intuitive (...)
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  19. added 2014-03-31
    Constant Colors in the Head.James A. McGilvray - 1994 - 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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  20. added 2014-03-31
    Interior Colors.Joseph Thomas Tolliver - 1994 - Philosophical Topics 22 (1/2):411-41.
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  21. added 2014-03-26
    Can Color Be Reduced to Anything?Don Dedrick - 1996 - 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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  22. added 2014-03-26
    The Evolution of Color Vision Without Colors.Richard J. Hall - 1996 - 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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  23. added 2014-03-26
    True Theories, False Colors.Austen Clark - 1996 - Philosophy of Science (Supplement) 63 (3):143-50.
    University of Connecticut Storrs, CT 06279-2054. 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 may enable (...)
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  24. added 2014-03-25
    The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism.Peter W. Ross - 2001 - 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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  25. added 2014-03-25
    Subjectivism, Physicalism or None of the Above? Comments on Ross's The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism.Jonathan Cohen - 2001 - 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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  26. added 2014-03-25
    Spatial Location in Color Vision.Ian Gold - 2001 - 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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  27. added 2014-03-25
    Locating Color: Further Thoughts.Peter W. Ross - 2001 - Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):146-156.
    "The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism" response to commentators.
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  28. added 2014-03-24
    Color Eliminativism and Color Experience.Emmett L. Holman - 2002 - Pacific Philosophical Quareterly 83 (1):38-56.
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  29. added 2014-03-18
    The Illusory Theory of Colours: An Anti-Realist Theory.Barry Maund - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (3):245-268.
    Despite the fact about colour, that it is one of the most obvious and conspicuous features of the world, there is a vast number of different theories about colour, theories which seem to be proliferating rather than decreasing. How is it possible that there can be so much disagreement about what colours are? Is it possible that these different theorists are not talking about the same thing? Could it be that more than one of them is right? Indeed some theorists, (...)
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  30. added 2014-03-18
    Color, Error, and Explanatory Power.Jonathan Ellis - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (2):171-179.
    Error theorists about color argue that our ordinary judgments ascribing color to material objects are all false. The error theorist proposes that everything that is so, including the fact that material objects appear to us to have color, can best be explained without ever attributing color to objects (for instance, by appealing to surface reflectance properties, the nature of light, the neurophysiology of perceivers, etc.). The appeal of this view stems in significant part from the prevalent thought that such explanations (...)
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  31. added 2014-03-18
    Explaining the Quest and its Prospects: Reply to Boghossian and Byrne.Barry Stroud - 2002 - 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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  32. added 2014-03-06
    Colour Irrealism and the Formation of Colour Concepts.Jonathan Ellis - 2005 - 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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  33. added 2014-03-04
    The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour, by Barry Stroud.Keith Allen - 2011 - Mind 120 (480):1306-1309.
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  34. added 2014-02-10
    Stroud’s Quest for Reality. [REVIEW]Bill Brewer - 2004 - 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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  35. added 2014-02-10
    Replies. [REVIEW]Barry Stroud - 2004 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):423-442.
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  36. added 2012-05-08
    Reliable Misrepresentation and Tracking Theories of Mental Representation.Angela Mendelovici - 2013 - 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 have difficulty allowing for this possibility, and that this is a major consideration against them.
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  37. added 2011-02-04
    Perceived Colors and Perceived Locations: A Problem for Color Subjectivism.Peter W. Ross - 2012 - 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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  38. added 2010-10-06
    Locating The Unique Hues.Keith Allen - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 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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  39. added 2010-05-24
    Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow.Color and Color Perception: A Study in Anthropocentric Realism.Clyde L. Hardin - 1988 - 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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  40. added 2010-05-24
    To Color.James A. McGilvray - 1983 - Synthese 54 (January):37-70.
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  41. added 2010-03-12
    Introduction.Vivian Mizrahi & Martine Nida-Rumelin - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (3):209-222.
  42. added 2010-02-28
    Colour Fictionalism.Dimitria Electra Gatzia - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 43:109-123.
    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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  43. added 2010-02-28
    Fictional Colors.Dimitria Electra Gatzia - 2007 - 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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  44. added 2009-10-30
    Color Eliminativism.Adam Pautz - manuscript
    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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  45. added 2009-10-30
    A Green Thought in a Green Shade.C. L. Hardin - 2004 - Harvard Review of Philosophy 12 (1):29-39.
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  46. added 2009-10-30
    Barry Stroud, the Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour.Jonathan Cohen - 2003 - 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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  47. added 2009-10-30
    The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour.Barry Stroud - 2000 - 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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  48. added 2009-10-30
    The Nature of Color.J. Barry Maund - 1991 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 8 (3):253-63.
  49. added 2009-10-30
    Color and Illusion.C. L. Hardin - 1990 - In William G. Lycan (ed.), Mind and Cognition. Blackwell.
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  50. added 2009-10-30
    Are Scientific Objects Colored?C. L. Hardin - 1984 - Mind 93 (October):491-500.
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