Probably colour is the best worked-out example of allegedly neurophysiologically innate response categories determining percepts and percepts determining concepts, and hence biology fixing the basic categories implicit in the use of language. In this paper I argue against this view and I take C. L. Hardin's Color for Philosophers [1988] as my main target. I start by undermining the view that four unique hues stand apart from all other colour shades (Section 2) and the confidence that the solar spectrum is naturally divided into four categories (Section 3). For such categories to be truly universal, they have to be true for all peoples and in Section 4 I show that Berlin and Kay's [1969] widely quoted theory of basic colour categories is not sufficiently supported to lend it any credibility. Having disposed of the view that inspection of language or ?pure? perception unveils the universal colour categories. I turn to neurophysiological and psychophysical theories of colour vision to see whether they provide a more solid basis for deciding what the innate response categories are. In Section 5 I show that Hardin's account of the opponent-process theory neither supports his view that ?colour-coding?takes place early in the visual neural pathway, nor his view that knowledge of colour vision science will help us solve many philosophical mysteries about colour. In Section 6 I give a more detailed review of what is known today about the neurophysiology of colour vision and I show that there's nothing in the brain which could be called a colour module, let alone a module with homunculi for particular basic colour categories. In Section 7 I show that psychophysical models do not support such rigid constraints on category formation either. Hence (Section 8), at least in the case of colour, current science supports a plasticity in the formation of categories that goes far beyond the requirements of those naturalistic philosophers who would like to ground primitive concepts in biology
Keywords Color  Epistemology  Language  Neurophysiology  Representation  Universal
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/bjps/44.1.103
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 58,398
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Color and Similarity.Alex Byrne - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (3):641-65.
Psychophysical Scaling: Judgments of Attributes or Objects?Gregory R. Lockhead - 1992 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15 (3):543-558.
Conclusions From Color Vision of Insects.Werner Backhaus & Randolf Menzel - 1992 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15 (1):28-30.
Color.Barry Maund - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

View all 84 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

On Describing Colors.Bernard Harrison - 1967 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 10 (1-4):38-52.
Constraints on Colour Category Formation.Yasmina Jraissati, Elley Wakui, Lieven Decock & Igor Douven - 2012 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26 (2):171-196.
Colour Irrealism and the Formation of Colour Concepts.Jonathan Ellis - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):53-73.
“Universals of Colour” From a Linguistic Point of View.Anna Wierzbicka - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):724-725.
Is Colour Composition Phenomenal?Vivian Mizrahi - 2009 - In D. Skusevich & P. Matikas (eds.), Color Perception: Physiology, Processes and Analysis. Nova Science Publishers.
Language Impairment and Colour Categories.Jules Davidoff & Claudio Luzzatti - 2005 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (4):494-495.


Added to PP index

Total views
212 ( #44,160 of 2,420,559 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
10 ( #67,886 of 2,420,559 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes