Color Realism

Edited by Alex Byrne (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
About this topic
Summary Color realism is the view that physical objects like lemons and tomatoes are colored, and typically have the colors they appear to have: lemons are yellow, tomatoes are red, and so on. Color realism is opposed to color irrealism (or eliminativism), the view that physical objects are not colored.
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. Revised: From Color, to Consciousness, toward Strong AI.Xinyuan Gu - manuscript
    This article cohesively discusses three topics, namely color and its perception, the yet-to-be-solved hard problem of consciousness, and the theoretical possibility of strong AI. First, the article restores color back into the physical world by giving cross-species evidence. Secondly, the article proposes a dual-field with function Q hypothesis (DFFQ) which might explain the ‘first-person point of view’ and so the hard problem of consciousness. Finally, the article discusses what DFFQ might bring to artificial intelligence and how it might allow strong (...)
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  2. Experimental Philosophy of Consciousness.Kevin Reuter - forthcoming - In Joshua Knobe & Shaun Nichols (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
    Experimental philosophy of consciousness aims to investigate and explain our thinking about phenomenally conscious states. Based on empirical studies, researchers have argued (a) that we lack a folk concept of consciousness, (b) that we do not think entities like Microsoft feel regret, (c) that unfelt pains are widely accepted, and (d) that people do not attribute phenomenally conscious states to duplicated hamsters. In this article, I review these and other intriguing claims about people’s understanding of phenomenal consciousness. In doing so, (...)
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  3. Theories of Color Perception.Ralph Schumacher (ed.) - forthcoming - Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  4. Deflating the hard problem of consciousness by multiplying explanatory gaps.Işık Sarıhan - 2024 - Ratio 37 (1):1-13.
    Recent philosophy has seen a resurgence of the realist view of sensible qualities such as colour. The view holds that experienced qualities are properties of the objects in the physical environment, not mentally instantiated properties like qualia or merely intentional, illusory ones. Some suggest that this move rids us of the explanatory gap between physical properties and the qualitative features of consciousness. Others say it just relocates the problem of qualities to physical objects in the environment, given that such qualities (...)
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  5. On Debunking Color Realism.Daniel Z. Korman & Dustin Locke - 2022 - In Diego E. Machuca (ed.), Evolutionary Debunking Arguments: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mathematics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology. New York: Routledge. pp. 257-277.
    You see a cherry and you experience it as red. A textbook explanation for why you have this sort of experience is going to cite such things as the cherry’s chemical surface properties and the distinctive mixture wavelengths of light it is disposed to reflect. What does not show up in this explanation is the redness of the cherry. Many allege that the availability of color-free explanations of color experience somehow calls into question our beliefs about the colors of objects (...)
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  6. Is Representationalism Committed to Colour Physicalism?Daniel Mario Weger - 2022 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 22 (64):1-20.
    The circularity problem states that the representationalist about phenomenal consciousness gives a circular explanation if she adopts the classic view about secondary qualities, such as colours, that characterises them as dispositions to produce experiences with a specifi c phenomenal character. Since colour primitivism faces severe diffi culties, it seems that colour physicalism is the only viable option for the representationalist. I will argue that the representationalist is not committed to colour physicalism because she can adopt an anti-realist theory of colour. (...)
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  7. Quality-Space Functionalism about Color.Jacob Berger - 2021 - Journal of Philosophy 118 (3):138-164.
    I motivate and defend a previously underdeveloped functionalist account of the metaphysics of color, a view that I call ‘quality-space functionalism’ about color. Although other theorists have proposed varieties of color functionalism, this view differs from such accounts insofar as it identifies and individuates colors by their relative locations within a particular kind of so-called ‘quality space’ that reflects creatures’ capacities to discriminate visually among stimuli. My arguments for this view of color are abductive: I propose that quality-space functionalism best (...)
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  8. Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour.Derek Brown & Fiona Macpherson (eds.) - 2021 - New York: Routledge.
    From David Hume's famous puzzle about 'the missing shade of blue' to current research into the science of colour, the topic of colour is an incredibly fertile region of study and debate, cutting across philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics and aesthetics as well as psychology. Debates about the nature of our experience of colour and the nature of colour itself are central to contemporary discussion and argument in philosophy of mind and psychology, and philosophy of perception. This outstanding Handbook contains (...)
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  9. Science and Philosophy of Color in the Modern Age.Jacob Browning & Zed Adams - 2021 - In Anders Steinvall & Sarah Streets (eds.), Cultural History of Color in the Modern Age. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 21-38.
    The study of color expanded rapidly in the 20th century. With this expansion came fragmentation, as philosophers, physicists, physiologists, psychologists, and others explored the subject in vastly different ways. There are at least two ways in which the study of color became contentious. The first was with regard to the definitional question: what is color? The second was with the location question: are colors inside the head or out in the world? In this chapter, we summarize the most prominent answers (...)
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  10. Color and a priori knowledge.Brian Cutter - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (1):293-315.
    Some truths about color are knowable a priori. For example, it is knowable a priori that redness is not identical to the property of being square. This extremely modest and plausible claim has significant philosophical implications, or so I shall argue. First, I show that this claim entails the falsity of standard forms of color functionalism, the view that our color concepts are functional concepts that pick out their referents by way of functional descriptions that make reference to the subjective (...)
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  11. Unique Hues and Colour Experience.Mohan Matthen - 2021 - In Fiona Macpherson & Derek Brown (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour. London: Routledge. pp. 159–174.
    In this Handbook entry, I review how colour similarity spaces are constructed, first for physical sources of colour and secondly for colour as it is perceptually experienced. The unique hues are features of one of the latter constructions, due initially to Hering and formalized in the Swedish Natural Colour System. I review the evidence for a physiological basis for the unique hues. Finally, I argue that Tye's realist approach to the unique hues is a mistake.
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  12. 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. pp. 106-127.
    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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  13. Primitive Colors. [REVIEW]Derek H. Brown - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (3):348-352.
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  14. 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 (1623–73) 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 (i) it is impossible to (...)
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  15. 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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  16. A Naïve Realist Theory of Colour By Keith Allen. [REVIEW]Eliot Michaelson - 2018 - Analysis 78 (3):580-583.
    A Naïve Realist Theory of Colour By AllenKeithOxford University Press, 2016. x + 204 pp.
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  17. Invisible disagreement: an inverted qualia argument for realism.Justin Donhauser - 2017 - 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 (...)
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  18. Objectivism about Color and Comparative Color Statements. Reply to Hansen.Mario Gómez-Torrente - 2017 - Noûs 51 (2):429-435.
    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.
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  19. A new argument from interpersonal variation to subjectivism about color: a response to Gómez-Torrente.Nat Hansen - 2017 - Noûs 51 (2):421-428.
    I describe a new, comparative, version of the argument from interpersonal variation to subjectivism about color. The comparative version undermines a recent objectivist response to standard versions of that argument (Gómez-Torrente 2014).
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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. A Naïve Realist Theory of Colour.Keith Allen - 2016 - New York, NY: Oxford University Press UK.
    A Naive Realist Theory of Colour defends the view that colours are mind-independent properties of things in the environment, that are distinct from properties identified by the physical sciences. This view stands in contrast to the long-standing and wide-spread view amongst philosophers and scientists that colours don't really exist - or at any rate, that if they do exist, then they are radically different from the way that they appear. It is argued that a naive realist theory of colour best (...)
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  23. Perceptual Variation, Color Language, and Reference Fixing. An Objectivist Account.Mario Gómez-Torrente - 2016 - Noûs 50 (1):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. (...)
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  24. Seeing White and Wrong: Reid on the Role of Sensations in Perception, with a Focus on Color Perception.Lucas Thorpe - 2015 - In Rebecca Copenhaver & Todd Buras (eds.), Thomas Reid on Mind, Knowledge, and Value (Mind Association Occasional Series). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 100-123.
  25. 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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  26. 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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  27. Parsing the rainbow.Pendaran Roberts - 2014 - Synthese 191 (8):1793-1811.
    Navigating the ontology of color used to be a simple affair. There was the naive view that colors really are in objects the way they appear, and the view that they are secondary qualities to cause certain experiences in us. Today, there are myriad well-developed views but no satisfactory taxonomy of philosophical theories on color. In this article, I first examine the two newest taxonomies on offer and argue that they are inadequate. In particular, I look at Brogaard’s taxonomy and (...)
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  28. Skepticism, Invulnerability, and Epistemological Dissatisfaction.Chris Ranalli - 2013 - In C. Illies & C. Schaefer (eds.), Metaphysics or Modernity? Bamberg University Press. pp. 113-148.
    How should we understand the relationship between the contents of our color, causal, modal, and evaluative beliefs, on the one hand, and color, causal, modal, and evaluative properties, on the other? According to Barry Stroud (2011), because of the nature of the contents of those types of beliefs, we should also think that what he calls a “negative metaphysical verdict” on the latter is not one that we could consistently maintain. The metaphysical project aims to arrive at an improved conception (...)
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  29. Thomas Reid and the Problem of Secondary Qualities.Christopher A. Shrock - 2013 - Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
    With a new reading of Thomas Reid on primary and secondary qualities, Christopher A. Shrock illuminates the Common Sense theory of perception. Shrock follow's Reid's lead in defending common sense philosophy against the problem of secondary qualities, which claims that our perceptions are only experiences in our brains, not of the world.
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  30. Perception and Reality.Keith Wilson - 2013 - New Philosopher 1 (2):104-107.
    Taken at face value, the picture of reality suggested by modern science seems radically opposed to the world as we perceive it through our senses. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear scientists and others claim that much of our perceptual experience is a kind of pervasive illusion rather than a faithful presentation of various aspects of reality. On this view, familiar properties such as colours and solidity, to take just two examples, do not belong to external objects, but are (...)
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  31. Colour in a Physical World: A Problem due to Visual Noise.John Morrison - 2012 - Mind 121 (482):333-373.
    I will develop a new problem for almost all realist theories of colour. The problem involves fluctuations in our colour experiences that are due to visual noise rather than changes in the objects we are looking at.
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  32. In defense of Incompatibility, Objectivism, and Veridicality about color.Pendaran Roberts & Kelly Schmidtke - 2012 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3 (4):547-558.
    Are the following propositions true of the colors: No object can be more than one determinable or determinate color all over at the same time (Incompatibility); the colors of objects are mind-independent (Objectivism); and most human observers usually perceive the colors of objects veridically in typical conditions (Veridicality)? One reason to think not is that the empirical literature appears to support the proposition that there is mass perceptual disagreement about the colors of objects amongst human observers in typical conditions (P-Disagreement). (...)
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  33. Yellow is not a Color.Christopher A. Shrock - 2012 - Southwest Philosophical Studies 34:58-64.
  34. Revelation and the Nature of Colour.Keith Allen - 2011 - 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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  35. Color objectivism and color projectivism.Edward Wilson Averill & Allan Hazlett - 2011 - 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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  36. Color Constancy.David H. Foster - 2011 - Vision Research 51:674-700.
    A quarter of a century ago, the first systematic behavioral experiments were performed to clarify the nature of color constancy—the effect whereby the perceived color of a surface remains constant despite changes in the spectrum of the illumination. At about the same time, new models of color constancy appeared, along with physiological data on cortical mechanisms and photographic colorimetric measurements of natural scenes. Since then, as this review shows, there have been many advances. The theoretical requirements for constancy have been (...)
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  37. Kripke on Color Words and the Primary-Secondary Quality Distinction.Mario Gomez-Torrente - 2011 - In Alan Berger (ed.), Saul Kripke. Cambridge University Press. pp. 290-323.
    An exposition of Kripke's unpublished critique of dispositionalism about color, followed by a review of some recent defenses of dispositionalism and a sketch of some objections that could be made to these defenses from a broadly Kripkean perspective.
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  38. 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. In defence of natural daylight.Keith Allen - 2010 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91 (1):1-18.
    Objects appear different as the illumination under which they are perceived varies. This fact is sometimes thought to pose a problem for the view that colours are mind-independent properties: if a coloured object appears different under different illuminations, then under which illumination does the object appear the colour it really is? I argue that given the nature of natural daylight, and certain plausible assumptions about the nature of the colours it illuminates, there is a non-arbitrary reason to suppose that it (...)
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  40. 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 (...)
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  41. Colour Resemblance and Colour Realism.Fabian Dorsch - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 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 (...)
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  42. Color Experience: A Semantic Theory.Mohan Matthen - 2010 - In Jonathan Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press. pp. 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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  43. Color within an internalist framework : the role of color in the structure of the perceptual system.Rainer Mausfeld - 2010 - In Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press.
    Colour is, according to prevailing orthodoxy in perceptual psychology, a kind of autonomous and unitary attribute. It is regarded as unitary or homogeneous by assuming that its core properties do not depend on the type of ‘perceptual object’ to which it pertains and that‘colour per se’ constitutes a natural attribute in the functional architecture of the perceptual system. It is regarded as autonomous by assuming that it can be studied in isolation of other perceptual attributes. These assumptions also provide the (...)
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  44. Color and transparency.Vivian Mizrahi - 2010 - Rivista di Estetica 43:181-192.
    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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  45. Reid, Aristotle, and Color.Christopher A. Shrock - 2010 - Southwest Philosophical Studies 32.
  46. Being coloured and looking coloured.Keith Allen - 2009 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):pp. 647-670.
    What is the relationship between being coloured and looking coloured? According to Alva Noë, to be coloured is to manifest a pattern of apparent colours as the perceptual conditions vary. I argue that Noë’s ‘phenomenal objectivism’ faces similar objections to attempts by traditional dispositionalist theories of colour to account for being coloured in terms of looking coloured. Instead, I suggest that to be coloured is to look coloured in a ‘non-perspectival’ sense, where non-perspectival looks transcend specific perceptual conditions.
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  47. Being Coloured and Looking Coloured.Keith Allen - 2009 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):647-670.
    Intuitively, there is an intimate connection between being coloured and looking coloured. As Strawson memorably remarked, it is natural to assume that ‘colours are visibilia or they are nothing’. But what exactly is the nature of this relationship?A traditionally popular view of the relationship between being coloured and looking coloured starts from the common place that the character of our perceptual experience changes as the conditions in which an object is perceived vary. For instance, our experience changes when we view (...)
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  48. Inter-species variation in colour perception.Keith Allen - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 142 (2):197 - 220.
    Inter-species variation in colour perception poses a serious problem for the view that colours are mind-independent properties. Given that colour perception varies so drastically across species, which species perceives colours as they really are? In this paper, I argue that all do. Specifically, I argue that members of different species perceive properties that are determinates of different, mutually compatible, determinables. This is an instance of a general selectionist strategy for dealing with cases of perceptual variation. According to selectionist views, objects (...)
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  49. The Red and the Real: An Essay on Color Ontology.Jonathan Cohen - 2009 - Oxford, GB: 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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  50. 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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