Content, Character and Color I: Against Standard Representationalism

The words “content” and “character” in my title refer to the representational content and phenomenal character of color experiences. So my topic concerns the nature of our experience of color. But I will, of course, be talking about colors as well as color experience. Let me set the stage by mentioning some things, some more controversial than others, that I will be taking for granted. I assume, to begin with, that objects in the world have colors, and have them independently of being perceived to have them, and independently even of there being creatures capable of perceiving them. I think, and this of course sets me apart from the many color irrealists among philosophers and color scientists, that any reasonable semantics for color terms, and any reasonable account of the reference of color concepts, should yield the result that colors are properties of external things that are realized in certain of their physical properties, namely those responsible for their reflecting or emitting the light whose impact on our retinas is involved in causing our color perceptions. This brings me to a further assumption that I shall be making, namely the truth of physicalism. I take physicalism to be the thesis that all properties of things either are or are realized in basic physical properties, where basic physical properties are the properties that underlie the behavior and causal powers of inanimate things. There are two ways in which the commitment to physicalism will figure in my discussion. First, I assume that colors are physically realized properties. Second, I assume that color experiences are physically realized. These two commitments frame the problem I am discussing – how can colors be properties realized in the microphysical properties of things, and how can color experience be so realized? I don’t think there is any generally accepted account of what it is for a property to be “realized in” other properties. For those who think, as I do, that properties are individuated by their causal features, it should seem plausible to say that property P realizes property Q just in case the forward looking causal features of Q are a subset of the forward looking causal features of P, and the backward looking....
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