About this topic
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. 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 (...)
  2. Colour Realism and the Argument From Microscopes.David M. Armstrong - 1969 - In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy in Australia. Humanities Press. pp. 301-323.
  3. 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 (...)
  4. 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.
  5. 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 (...)
  6. Color, Externalism and Switch Cases.David Bain - unknown
    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 (...)
  7. Physicalist Theories of Color.Paul A. Boghossian & J. David Velleman - 1991 - Philosophical Review 100 (January):67-106.
  8. 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.
  9. Of Colors, Kestrels, Caterpillars, and Leaves.Peter Bradley & Michael Tye - 2001 - Journal of Philosophy 98 (9):469.
    According to color realism, object colors are mind-independent properties that cover surfaces or permeate volumes of objects. In recent years, some color scientists and a growing number of philosophers have opposed this view on the grounds that realism about color cannot accommodate the apparent unitary/binary structure of the hues. For example, Larry Hardin asserts, the unitary-binary structure of the colors as we experience them corresponds to no known physical structure lying outside nervous systems that is causally involved in the perception (...)
  10. Contemporary Philosophy in Australia.Robert Brown - 1969 - New York: Humanities P..
    First published in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
  11. Authors' Response Continuing Commentary on Color Realism and Color Science ".Alex Byrne - unknown
    Our reply is in four parts. The first part addresses objections to our claim that there might be "unknowable" color facts. The second part discusses the use we make of opponent process theory. The third part examines the question of whether colors are causes. The fourth part takes up some issues concerning the content of visual experience. Our target article had three aims: (a) to explain clearly the structure of the debate about color realism; (b) to introduce an interdisciplinary audience (...)
  12. 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 (...)
  13. 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.
  14. Colors and Reflectances.Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert - 1997 - In Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (eds.), Readings on Color, Volume 1: The Philosophy of Color. MIT Press.
    When we open our eyes, the world seems full of colored opaque objects, light sources, and transparent volumes. One historically popular view, _eliminativism_, is that the world is not in this respect as it appears to be: nothing has any color. Color _realism_, the denial of eliminativism, comes in three mutually exclusive varieties, which may be taken to exhaust the space of plausible realist theories. Acccording to _dispositionalism_, colors are _psychological_ dispositions: dispositions to produce certain kinds of visual experiences. According (...)
  15. Readings on Color, Volume 1: The Philosophy of Color.Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert - 1997 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
    "This admirable volume of readings is the first of a pair: the editors are to be applauded for placing the philosophy of color exactly where it should go, in ...
  16. Philosophical Aspects of the Mind-Body Problem.Charles L. Y. Cheng (ed.) - 1975 - Hawaii University Press.
  17. The Truth About 'The Truth About True Blue'.J. Cohen, C. L. Hardin & B. P. McLaughlin - 2007 - Analysis 67 (2):162-166.
  18. 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 (...)
  19. 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.
  20. 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 (...)
  21. 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.
  22. 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 (...)
  23. 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 (...)
  24. Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic, and Computational Perspectives.Davis Steven (ed.) - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
    Color has been studied for centuries, but has never been completely understood. Digital technology has recently sparked a burgeoning interdisciplinary interest in color. The fact that color is a quality of perception rather than a physical quality brings up a host of interesting questions of interest to both artists and scholars. This volume--the ninth in the Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science series--brings together chapters by psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, and artists to explore the nature of human color perception with the (...)
  25. Objectivism and the Evolutionary Value of Color Vision.Don Dedrick - 1995 - Dialogue 34 (1):35-44.
    In Color for Philosophers C. L. Hardin argues that chromatic objectivism?a view which identifies colour with some or other property of objects?must be false. The upshot of Hardin's argument is this: there is, in fact, no principled correlation between physical properties and perceived colours. Since that correlation is a minimal condition for objectivism, objectivism is false. Mohan Matthen, who accepts Hardin's conclusion for what can be called "simple objectivism," takes it that an adaptationist theory of biological function applied to colour (...)
  26. 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], (...)
  27. 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 (...)
  28. 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 (...)
  29. 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) (...)
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. 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. (...)
  33. A Modern Inquiry Into the Physical Property of Colors in Mind, Value and Culture.Richard E. Grandy - 1989 - In David Weissbord (ed.), Mind, Value, and Culture: Essays in Honor of E. M. Adams. Atascadero: Ridgeview.
  34. 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 (...)
  35. 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 (...)
  36. 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.
  37. 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 (...)
  38. A Spectral Reflectance Doth Not A Color Make.C. L. Hardin - 2003 - Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.
  39. 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 (...)
  40. 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 (...)
  41. Perception and the Physical World.Dieter Heyer & Rainer Mausfeld (eds.) - 2002 - Wiley.
    The focus of this book is on conceptual and philosophical issues of perception including the classic notion of unconscious inferences in perception. The book consists of contributions from a group of internationally renowned researchers who spent a year together as distinguised fellows at the German Centre for Advanced Study.
  42. 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 (...)
  43. Color and Color Perception: A Study in Anthropocentric Realism.David R. Hilbert - 1987 - Csli Press.
  44. Mindmelding: Consciousness, Neuroscience, and the Mind's Privacy.William Hirstein - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
  45. 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.
  46. 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.
  47. The Primary Quality View of Color.Frank Jackson - 1996 - Philosophical Perspectives 10:199-219.
  48. 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.
  49. 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 (...)
  50. The Physicalistic Trap in Perception Theory.Rainer Mausfeld - 2002 - In Dieter Heyer & Rainer Mausfeld (eds.), Perception and the Physical World. Wiley.
    The chapter deals with misconceptions in perception theory that are based on the idea of slicing the nature of perception along the joints of physics and on corresponding ill-conceived ʹpurposesʹ and ʹgoalsʹ of the perceptual system. It argues that the conceptual structure underlying the percept cannot be inferentially attained from the sensory input. The output of the perceptual system, namely meaningful categories, is evidently vastly underdetermined by the sensory input, namely physico-geometric energy patterns. Thus, the core task of perception theory (...)
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