Categorical Perception of Color: Assessing the Role of Language

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 12 (3):439-462 (2012)
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Abstract

Why do we draw the boundaries between “blue” and “green”, where we do? One proposed answer to this question is that we categorize color the way we do because we perceive color categorically. Starting in the 1950’s, the phenomenon of “categorical perception” (CP) encouraged such a response. CP refers to the fact that adjacent color patches are more easily discriminated when they straddle a category boundary than when they belong to the same category. In this paper, I make three related claims. (1) Although what seems to guide discrimination performances seems to indeed be categorical information, the evidence in favor of the fact that categorical perception infl uences the way we perceive color is not convincing. (2) That CP offers a useful account of categorization is not obvious.While aiming at accounting for categorization, CP itself requires an account of categories. This being said, CP remains an interesting phenomenon. Why and how is our discrimination behavior linked to our categories? It is suggested that linguistic labels determine CP through a naming strategy to which participants resort while discriminating colors. This paper’s fi nal point is (3) that the naming strategy account is not enough. Beyond category labels, what seems to guide discrimination performance is category structure

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