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Summary Physicalist theories of color identify colors with physical properties. Candidates for such properties include ways of altering incident light, and the categorical grounds of dispositions to look colored. An important objection to color physicalism is that it cannot account for similarity relations among the colors, and the distinction between the unique and binary hues. 
Key works For early versions of physicalism, see Smart 1975 and Armstrong 1987. Hilbert 1987 is defense of "reflectance physicalism", the view that colors are surface spectral reflectances. Other defenses of physicalism are in Jackson 1996 and Byrne & Hilbert 2003. For some central criticisms, see Boghossian & Velleman 1991 and Hardin 1988.
Introductions For short overviews of the competing theories of color, see the introduction to Byrne & Hilbert 1997, Hilbert 1998 and Byrne & Hilbert 2002. For a more substantial introduction see Maund 2008. A useful annotated bibliography is Brogaard 2010.
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  1. 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. Theories of Color Perception.Ralph Schumacher (ed.) - forthcoming - Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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  3. Objectivist Reductionism.Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert - 2021 - In Fiona Macpherson & Derek Brown (eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Colour. London: Routledge.
    A survey of arguments for and against the view that colors are physical properties.
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  4. Phenomenal Externalism's Explanatory Power.Peter W. Ross - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (3):613-630.
    I argue that phenomenal externalism is preferable to phenomenal internalism on the basis of externalism's explanatory power with respect to qualitative character. I argue that external qualities, namely, external physical properties that are qualitative independent of consciousness, are necessary to explain qualitative character, and that phenomenal externalism is best understood as accepting external qualities while phenomenal internalism is best understood as rejecting them. I build support for the claim that external qualities are necessary to explain qualitative character on the basis (...)
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  5. 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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  6. Colour Hallucination: A New Problem for Externalist Representationalism.Laura Gow - 2017 - Analysis 77 (4):695-704.
    Externalist representationalists claim that the phenomenal character of a visual perceptual experience is determined by the representational content of that experience. Their deployment of the idea that perceptual experience is transparent shows that they account for representational content with reference to the properties which are represented – the properties out there in the world. I explain why this commits the externalist representationalist to objectivism and realism about colour properties. Colour physicalism has proved to be the position of choice for externalist (...)
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  7. 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.
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  8. Color Comparisons and Interpersonal Variation.Nat Hansen - 2017 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 8 (4):809-826.
    An important challenge to color objectivists, who hold that statements concerning color are made true or false by objective facts, is the argument from interpersonal variation in where normal observers locate the unique hues. Recently, an attractive objectivist response to the argument has been proposed that draws on the semantics of gradable adjectives and which does not require defending the idea that there is a single correct location for each of the unique hues Noûs 50: 3–40),. In ), I argued (...)
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  9. What the Mind-Independence of Color Requires.Peter Ross - 2017 - In Marcos Silva (ed.), How Colours Matter to Philosophy. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. pp. 137-158.
    The early modern distinction between primary and secondary qualities continues to have a significant impact on the debate about the nature of color. An aspect of this distinction that is still influential is the idea that the mind-independence of color requires that it is a primary quality. Thus, using shape as a paradigm example of a primary quality, a longstanding strategy for determining whether color is mind-independent is to consider whether it is sufficiently similar to shape to be a primary (...)
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  10. 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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  11. Quidditism and the Resemblance of Properties.Ghislain Guigon - 2016 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 5 (3):177-184.
    It is widely agreed that properties play causal roles: they capture the causal powers of things. But do properties have their causal roles essentially? David Lewis did not think so. He adhered to the doctrine of quidditism, namely the doctrine that the identity of properties is primitive and that they can trade their causal roles. Quidditism is controversial. But Lewis did not see why he should want to reject it. He knew that he could avoid quidditism on the cheap by (...)
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  12. Relationalism About Perceptible Properties and the Principle of Charity.Pendaran Roberts & Kelly Ann Schmidtke - 2016 - Synthese 193 (9).
    Color relationalism holds that the colors are constituted by relations to subjects. The introspective rejoinder against this view claims that it is opposed to our phenomenally-informed, pre-theoretic intuitions. The rejoinder seems to be correct about how colors appear when looking at how participants respond to an item about the metaphysical nature of color but not when looking at an item about the ascription of colors. The present article expands the properties investigated to sound and taste and inspects the mentioned asymmetry, (...)
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  13. Colour Physicalism, Naïve Realism, and the Argument From Structure.Keith Allen - 2015 - Minds and Machines 25 (2):193-212.
    Colours appear to instantiate a number of structural properties: for instance, they stand in distinctive relations of similarity and difference, and admit of a fundamental distinction into unique and binary. Accounting for these structural properties is often taken to present a serious problem for physicalist theories of colour. This paper argues that a prominent attempt by Byrne and Hilbert to account for the structural properties of the colours, consistent with the claim that colours are types of surface spectral reflectance, is (...)
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  14. The Inscrutability of Colour Similarity.Will Davies - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 171 (2):289-311.
    This paper presents a new response to the colour similarity argument, an argument that many people take to pose the greatest threat to colour physicalism. The colour similarity argument assumes that if colour physicalism is true, then colour similarities should be scrutable under standard physical descriptions of surface reflectance properties such as their spectral reflectance curves. Given this assumption, our evident failure to find such similarities at the reducing level seemingly proves fatal to colour physicalism. I argue that we should (...)
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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. Colour Relationalism and the Real Deliverances of Introspection.Pendaran Roberts, James Andow & Kelly Schmidtke - 2014 - Erkenntnis 79 (5):1173-1189.
    Colour relationalism holds that the colours are constituted by relations to subjects. Anti-relationalists have claimed that this view stands in stark contrast to our phenomenally-informed, pre-theoretic intuitions. Is this claim right? Cohen and Nichols’ recent empirical study suggests not, as about half of their participants seemed to be relationalists about colour. Despite Cohen and Nichols’ study, we think that the anti-relationalist’s claim is correct. We explain why there are good reasons to suspect that Cohen and Nichols’ experimental design skewed their (...)
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  19. Mindmelding: Consciousness, Neuroscience, and the Mind's Privacy.William Hirstein - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
    [This download contains the Table of Contents and Chapter 1]. I argue here that the claim that conscious states are private, in the sense that only one person can ever experience them directly, is false. There actually is a way to connect the brains of two people that would allow one to have direct experience of the other's conscious, e.g., perceptual states. This would allow, for instance, one person to see that the other had deviant color perception (which was masked (...)
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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. Fitting Color Into the Physical World.Peter W. Ross - 2010 - Philosophical Psychology 23 (5):575-599.
    I propose a strategy for a metaphysical reduction of perceived color, that is, an identification of perceived color with properties characterizable in non-qualitative terms. According to this strategy, a description of visual experience of color, which incorporates a description of the appearance of color, is a reference-fixing description. This strategy both takes color appearance seriously in its primary epistemic role and avoids rendering color as metaphysically mysterious. I’ll also argue that given this strategy, a plausible account of perceived color claims (...)
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  26. 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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  27. 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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  28. The Event of Color.Robert Pasnau - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 142 (3):353 - 369.
    When objects are illuminated, the light they reflect does not simply bounce off their surface. Rather, that light is entirely reabsorbed and then reemitted, as the result of a complex microphysical event near the surface of the object. If we are to be physicalists regarding color, then we should analyze colors in terms of that event, just as we analyze heat in terms of molecular motion, and sound in terms of vibrations. On this account, colors are not standing properties of (...)
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  29. Color, Externalism, and Switch Cases.David Bain - 2007 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 45 (3):335-362.
    I defend externalism about color experiences and color thoughts, which I argue color objectivism requires. Externalists face the following question: would a subject’s wearing inverting lenses eventually change the color content of, for instance, those visual experiences the subject reports with “red”? From the work of Ned Block, David Velleman, Paul Boghossian, Michael Tye, and Fiona Macpherson, I extract problems facing those who answer “Yes” and problems facing those who answer “No.” I show how these problems can be overcome, leaving (...)
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  30. The Truth About 'The Truth About True Blue'.J. Cohen, C. L. Hardin & B. P. McLaughlin - 2007 - Analysis 67 (2):162-166.
  31. Color, Variation, and the Appeal to Essences: Impasse and Resolution.Jonathan Cohen - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 133 (3):425-438.
    Many philosophers have been attracted by the view that colors are mind- independent properties of object surfaces. A leading, and increasingly popular, version of this view that has been defended in recent years is the so-called physicalist position that identi?es colors with (classes of) spectral re?ectance distributions.1 This view, has, however, come in for a fair bit of criticism for failing to do justice to the facts about perceptual variation.2.
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  32. Colors Without Circles?Kathrin Glüer - 2007 - Erkenntnis 66 (1-2):107--131.
    Realists about color, be they dispositionalists or physicalists, agree on the truth of the following claim: (R) x is red iff x is disposed to look red under standard conditions. The disagreement is only about whether to identify the colors with the relevant dispositions, or with their categorical bases. This is a question about the representational content of color experience: What kind of properties do color experiences ascribe to objects? It has been argued (for instance by Boghossian and Velleman, 1991) (...)
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  33. The Reality of Qualia.Gary Hatfield - 2007 - Erkenntnis 66 (1-2):133--168.
    This paper argues for the reality of qualia as aspects of phenomenal experience. The argument focuses on color vision and develops a dispositionalist, subjectivist account of what it is for an object to be colored. I consider objections to dispositionalism on epistemological, metaphysical, and 'ordinary' grounds. I distinguish my representative realism from sense-data theories and from recent 'representational' or 'intentional' theories, and I argue that there is no good reason to adopt a physicalist stance that denies the reality of qualia (...)
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  34. Color and Perceptual Variation Revisited: Unknown Facts, Alien Modalities, and Perfect Psychosemantics.Jonathan Cohen - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (3):307-319.
    An adequate ontology of color must face the empirical facts about per- ceptual variation. In this paper I begin by reviewing a range of data about perceptual variation, and showing how they tell against color physicalism and motivate color relationalism. Next I consider a series of objections to the argument from perceptual variation, and argue that they are un- persuasive. My conclusion will be that the argument remains a powerful obstacle for color physicalism, and a powerful reason to believe in (...)
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  35. True Colours.Jonathan Cohen, C. L. Hardin & Brian P. McLaughlin - 2006 - Analysis 66 (4):335-340.
    (Tye 2006) presents us with the following scenario: John and Jane are both stan- dard human visual perceivers (according to the Ishihara test or the Farnsworth test, for example) viewing the same surface of Munsell chip 527 in standard conditions of visual observation. The surface of the chip looks “true blue” to John (i.e., it looks blue not tinged with any other colour to John), and blue tinged with green to Jane.1 Tye then in effect poses a multiple choice question.
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  36. Color Objectivism and Color Pluralism.Vivian Mizrahi - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (3):283-306.
    Most objectivist and dispositionalist theories of color have tried to resolve the challenge raised by color variations by drawing a distinction between real and apparent colors. This paper considers such a strategy to be fundamentally erroneous. The high degree of variability of colors constitutes a crucial feature of colors and color perception; it cannot be avoided without leaving aside the real nature of color. The objectivist theory of color defended in this paper holds that objects have locally many different objective (...)
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  37. Introduction.Vivian Mizrahi & Martine Nida-Rumelin - 2006 - Dialectica 60 (3):209-222.
    In November 2003, the University of Fribourg hosted a symposium on the ontology of colors. The invited participants included Justin Broackes, Alex Byrne, David Chalmers, Larry Hardin, Joe Levine and Barry Maund. The points of view presented by the participants in their thought-provoking papers were highly divergent. The presentation of each paper was followed by a long and intense discussion. Despite the divergence of the views proposed, the discussion during the symposium was highly focused. Several specific issues came up repeatedly (...)
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  38. Hardin, Tye, and Color Physicalism.David R. Hilbert - 2004 - Journal of Philosophy 101 (1):37 - 43.
    Larry Hardin has been the most steadfast and influential critic of physicalist theories of color over the last 20 years. In their modern form these theories originated with the work of Smart and Armstrong in the 1960s and 1970s1 and Hardin appropriately concentrated on their views in his initial critique of physicalism.2 In his most recent contribution to this project3 he attacks Michael Tye’s recent attempts to defend and extend color physicalism.4 Like Byrne and Hilbert5, Tye identifies color with the (...)
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  39. True Colours, False Theories.V. Arstila - 2003 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (1):41-50.
    The question of the constituting nature of colour is largely open. The old dispute between colour objectivism and colour subjectivism is still relevant. The former has defended itself against accusations of not being able to explain colour structures, while the latter view has received criticism for not being able to provide a plausible theory of the location of colours. By weakening the notion of physical categories, making some of them perceiver-depended, colour objectivists have managed to overcome at least some of (...)
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  40. Colors as Explainers?Andrew Botterell - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):785-786.
    Byrne & Hilbert argue that colors are reflectance properties of objects. They also claim that a necessary condition for something's being a color is that it causally explain – or be causally implicated in the explanation of – our perceptions of color. I argue that these two positions are in conflict.
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  41. Color Realism and Color Science.Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):3-21.
    The target article is an attempt to make some progress on the problem of color realism. Are objects colored? And what is the nature of the color properties? We defend the view that physical objects (for instance, tomatoes, radishes, and rubies) are colored, and that colors are physical properties, specifically types of reflectance. This is probably a minority opinion, at least among color scientists. Textbooks frequently claim that physical objects are not colored, and that the colors are "subjective" or "in (...)
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  42. Color Realism Redux.Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):52-59.
    Our reply is in three parts. The first part concerns some foundational issues in the debate about color realism. The second part addresses the many objections to the version of physicalism about color ("productance physicalism") defended in the target article. The third part discusses the leading alternative approaches and theories endorsed by the commentators.
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  43. Perceptual Variation, Realism, and Relativization, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Variations in Color Vision.Jonathan Cohen - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):25-26.
    In many cases of variation in color vision, there is no non-arbitrary way of choosing between variants. Byrne and Hilbert insist that there is an unknown standard for choosing, while eliminativists claim that all the variants are erroneous. A better response relativizes colors to perceivers, thereby providing a color realism that avoids the need to choose between variants.
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  44. Forestalling a Food Fight Over Color.Daniel C. Dennett - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):788-789.
    Byrne and Hilbert provide valuable clarification of the complexities–undreamt of by the layman–that make it hard to answer the question of what color is, and that often lead color scientists to say such remarkable and extravagant things. They emphasize at the outset that their issue is not just how to define the ordinary language term “color”: “The problem of color realism is like the investigation of what humans can digest, not the investigation of the folk category of food.” [ms p4], (...)
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  45. A Spectral Reflectance Doth Not A Color Make.C. L. Hardin - 2003 - Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.
  46. Objectivity and Subjectivity Revisited: Colour as a Psychobiological Property.Gary Hatfield - 2003 - In Rainer Mausfeld & Dieter Heyer (eds.), Colour Perception: Mind and the Physical World. Oxford University Press. pp. 187--202.
    This chapter focuses on the notion of color as a property of the surfaces of objects. It considers three positions on what colors are: objectivist, subjectivist, and relationalist. Examination of the arguments of the objectivists will help us understand how they seek to reduce color to a physical property of object surfaces. Subjectivists, by contrast, seek to argue that no such reduction is possible, and hence that color must be wholly subjective. This chapter argues that when functional considerations are taken (...)
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  47. In Favor of an Ecological Account of Color.Scott Huettel - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):33-33.
    B&H understate the difficulties facing their version of color realism. We doubt that they can fix reflectance types and magnitudes in a way that does not invoke relations to perceivers. B&HÂ’s account therefore resembles the dispositional or ecological accounts that they dismiss. This is a good thing, for a dispositional account is promising if understood in an ecological framework.
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  48. Color and Content.Frank Jackson - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):34-34.
    Those who identify colours with physical properties need to say how the content of colour experiences relate to their favoured identifications. This is because it is not plausible to hold that colour experiences represent things as having the physical properties in question. I sketch how physical realists about colour might tackle this item of unfinished business.
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  49. Clarifying the Problem of Color Realism.Barry Maund - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):40-41.
    “The problem of color realism” as defined in the first section of the target article, is crucial to the argument laid out by Byrne & Hilbert. They claim that the problem of color realism “does not concern, at least in the first instance, color language or color concepts” (sect. 1.1). I argue that this claim is misconceived and that a different characterisation of the problem, and some of their preliminary assumptions makes their positive proposal less appealing.
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  50. Can a Physicalist Notion of Color Provide Any Insight Into the Nature of Color Perception?Rainer Mausfeld & Reinhard Niederée - 2003 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):41-42.
    Byrne & Hilbert conceive of color perception as the representation of a physical property “out there.” In our view, their approach does not only have various internal problems, but is also apt to becloud both the intricate and still poorly understood role that “ color ” plays within perceptual architecture, and the complex coupling to the “external world” of the perceptual system as an entirety. We propose an alternative perspective, which avoids B&H's misleading dichotomy between a purely subjective and a (...)
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