How Colour Qualia Became a Problem

Journal of Consciousness Studies 27 (5-6):14-25 (2020)
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The meta-problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why we have problem intuitions about consciousness, why we intuitively think that conscious experience cannot be scientifically explained. In his discussion of this problem, David Chalmers briefly considers the possibility of giving a 'genealogical' solution, according to which problem intuitions are 'accidents of cultural history' (2018, p. 33). Chalmers' response to this solution is largely dismissive. In this paper, we defend the viability of a genealogical solution. Our strategy is to focus on a particular problem intuition: the thought that the phenomenal character of colour experience is irreducibly subjective. We use the history of the inverted spectrum thought experiment as a window into how various philosophers have thought about colour experience. Our genealogy reveals that problem intuitions about colour are not timeless, but instead arise in a specific historical context, one that, in large part, explains why we have these intuitions.



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Jacob Browning
New York University

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