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3.7a. Physicalist Theories of Color (Physicalist Theories of Color on PhilPapers)

Armstrong, David M. (1969). Colour realism and the argument from microscopes. In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy in Australia. Humanities Press.   (Cited by 6 | Google)
Arstila, V. (2003). True colors, false theories. Australian Journal of Philosophy 81 (1):41-61.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 the previous accusations. However, the arguments based on Crane's and Piantanida's findings of the existence of binary colours like greenish-red and yellowish-blue, indicate the inadequacy of colour objectivism. Consequently, we have colours but our theories of them are false
Averill, Edward Wilson & Hazlett, Allan, Color objectivism and color projectivism.   (Google)
Abstract: Objectivism, in the philosophy of color, is (roughly) the claim that colors are physically constituted properties, instantiated by objects around us. On this view many objects around us both look colored and are colored. Projectivism is (roughly) the claim that objects around us look colored, but are not colored. On some projectivist accounts, colors are identified with properties instantiated by elements of perceiver’s visual systems, resulting in a systematic illusion of the instantiation of color properties by objects around us. 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 phenomenology of color perception
Boghossian, Paul A. & Velleman, J. David (1991). Physicalist theories of color. Philosophical Review 100 (January):67-106.   (Cited by 50 | Google | More links)
Botterell, Andrew (2003). Colors as explainers? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):785-786.   (Google)
Abstract: Byrne & Hilbert (B&H) 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
Bradley, Peter & Tye, Michael (2001). Of colors, kestrels, caterpillars, and leaves. Journal Of Philosophy 98 (9):469-487.   (Cited by 53 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 of color. This
makes it very difficult to subscribe to a color realism that is
supposed to be about red, green, blue, black, and white—that is,
the colors with which we are perceptually acquainted.1
Similarly, Evan Thompson says
Byrne, Alex, Authors' response continuing commentary on color realism and color science ".   (Google)
Abstract: 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 to the way philosophers have thought about the issue; (c) to argue that colors are certain sorts of physical properties ("productances"). We are very grateful to the commentators in this continuing commentary for their criticism and constructive suggestions
Byrne, Alex & Hilbert, David R. (1997). Colors and reflectances. In Alex Byrne & David R. Hilbert (eds.), Readings on Color, Volume 1: The Philosophy of Color. MIT Press.   (Cited by 65 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 to both _primitivism_ and _physicalism_, colors are not psychological dispositions; they differ in that primitivism says that no reductive analysis of the colors is possible, whereas physicalism says that they are physical properties. This paper is a defense of physicalism about color
Byrne, Alex & Hilbert, David R. (2003). Color realism and color science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):3-21.   (Cited by 71 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 the mind." The article has two other purposes: first, to introduce an interdisciplinary audience to some distinctively philosophical tools that are useful in tackling the problem of color realism and, second, to clarify the various positions and central arguments in the debate
Byrne, Alex & Hilbert, David R. (2003). Color realism redux. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):52-59.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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
Byrne, Alex & Hilbert, David R. (2004). Hardin, Tye, and color physicalism. Journal of Philosophy 101 (1):37-43.   (Cited by 14 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 reflecting properties of objects (“reflectance physicalism”). Specifically, the determinate and determinable colors are identified with types of reflectances. (Setting some complications aside, the reflectance of an object is the proportion of light that it reflects at each wavelength in the visible spectrum.) These reflectance types are, in the terminology of Hilbert, anthropocentric—in the terminology of Lewis6, they are not very “natural”
Cohen, Jonathan (2006). Color and perceptual variation revisited: Unknown facts, alien modalities, and perfect psychosemantics. Dialectica 60 (3):307-319.   (Cited by 4 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 color relationalism instead
Cohen, Jonathan (2006). Color, variation, and the appeal to essences: Impasse and resolution. Philosophical Studies 133 (3):425-438.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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
Cohen, Jonathan (2003). Perceptual variation, realism, and relativization, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love variations in color vision. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):25-26.   (Cited by 6 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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
Cohen, Jonathan (2001). Subjectivism, physicalism or none of the above? Comments on Ross's The Location Problem for Color Subjectivism. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (1):94-104.   (Cited by 7 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 able to account for our perception of color, we are better off adopting physicalism
Dedrick, Don (1995). Objectivism and the evolutionary value of color vision. Dialogue 34 (1):35-44.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: 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 is able to surmount the problems Hardin describes. It is Matthen's view that I am primarily concerned with in this paper. I will argue that it entails an overly simple view of adaptive value?as, perhaps, do all objectivist views
Dennett, Daniel C. (2003). Forestalling a food fight over color. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):788-789.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: 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], but then I am puzzled by a tension in the target article regarding the weight they put on our ordinary intuitions about color. The very setting of the issue as a disagreement between “color realists” and “color eliminativists” endows the everyday concept with somewhat more authority than it deserves–comparable to an imaginary debate between biologists who were “food realists” and “food eliminativists”!
Gluer, Kathrin (forthcoming). Colors Without Circles? In Ralph Schumacher (ed.), Theories of Color Perception. Kluwer.   (Google)
Abstract: The dispute between realists about color and anti-realists is actually a dispute about the
nature of color properties. The disputants do not disagree over what material objects are
like. Rather, they disagree over whether any of the uncontroversial facts about material
objects – their powers to cause visual experiences, their dispositions to reflect incident
light, their atomic makeup, and so on – amount to their having colors. The disagreement
is thus about which properties colors are and, in particular, whether colors are any of the
properties in a particular set that is acknowledged on both sides to exhaust the properties
of material objects (1991, 67)
Glüer-Pagin, Kathrin (2007). Colors without circles? Erkenntnis 66 (1-2):107-131.   (Google)
Abstract: forthcoming in Theories of Color Perception, ed. R. Schumacher, special issue of Erkenntnis 2007
Grandy, Richard E. (1989). A modern inquiry into the physical property of colors in mind, value and culture. In David Weissbord (ed.), Mind, Value, and Culture: Essays in Honor of E. M. Adams. Atascadero: Ridgeview.   (Google)
Hardin, C. L. (2003). A spectral reflectance doth not a color make. Journal of Philosophy 100 (4):191-202.   (Cited by 9 | Google)
Hilbert, David R. (1987). Color and Color Perception: A Study in Anthropocentric Realism. CSLI Press.   (Cited by 94 | Google)
Huettel, Scott (2003). In favor of an ecological account of color. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):33-33.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: 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
Jackson, Frank (2003). Color and content. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):34-34.   (Google)
Abstract: 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
Jackson, Frank (1996). The primary quality view of color. Philosophical Perspectives 10:199-219.   (Cited by 29 | Google | More links)
Maund, Barry (2003). Clarifying the problem of color realism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):40-41.   (Google)
Abstract: “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
McFarland, Duncan & Miller, Alexander (1998). Jackson on colour as a primary quality. Analysis 58 (2):76-85.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Mizrahi, Vivian (2010). Color and transparency. Rivista di Estetica 43 (1).   (Google)
Abstract: In this paper I argue that all transparent objects are colorless. This thesis is important for at least three reasons. First, if transparent objects are colorless, there is no need to distinguish between colors which characterize three-dimensional bodies, like transparent colors, and colors which lie on the surface of objects. Second, traditional objections against color physicalism relying on transparent colors are rendered moot. Finally, an improved understanding of the relations between colors, light and transparency is provided.
Mizrahi, Vivian (2006). Color objectivism and color pluralism. Dialectica 60 (3):283-306.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: Most objectivist and dispositionalist theories of color have tried to resolve the challenge raised by color variations by drawing a distinction between real and apparent colors. This paper considers such a strategy to be fundamentally erroneous. The high degree of variability of colors constitutes a crucial feature of colors and color perception; it cannot be avoided without leaving aside the real nature of color. The objectivist theory of color defended in this paper holds that objects have locally many different objective colors. Most color variations are then real and result from the extreme richness of color properties.
Mizrahi, Vivian & Nida-Rumelin, Martine (2006). Introduction. Dialectica 60 (3):209-222.   (Google | More links)
Pasnau, Robert (2009). The event of color. Philosophical Studies 142 (3).   (Google)
Abstract: When objects are illuminated, the light they reflect does not simply bounce off their surface. Rather, that light is entirely reabsorbed and then reemitted, as the result of a complex microphysical event near the surface of the object. If we are to be physicalists regarding color, then we should analyze colors in terms of that event, just as we analyze heat in terms of molecular motion, and sound in terms of vibrations. On this account, colors are not standing properties of objects, but events, or (more cautiously) properties associated with events. Accordingly, objects in the dark are no more colored than a turned-off stove is hot. Such an account requires rejecting some of what folk ordinarily say about color, but this is the most coherent version of color physicalism
Pautz, Adam (2003). Have Byrne and Hilbert answered Hardin's challenge? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (1):44-45.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: I argue that Byrne and Hilbert have not answered Hardin’s objection to physicalism about color concerning the unitary-binary structure of the colors for two reasons. First, their account of unitary-binary structure seems unsatisfactory. Second, _pace_ Byrne and Hilbert, there are no physicalistically acceptable candidates to be the hue- magnitudes. I conclude with a question about the justification of physicalism about color
Polger, Thomas W. (online). True colors: A problem for Tye's color realism.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: Michael Tye has recently been a vocal defender of color realism or, as I shall call it, color objectivism. Objectivism about color is the view that color properties are identical to intrinsic physical properties of the surfaces of objects. Subjectivism about color is the denial of color objectivism. Objectivists argue that color claims must be taken at face value. In this paper I forego the usual bickering about whether there are surface reflectance properties that can be identified with colors as the objectivist theory requires. Supposing that some such properties could be found, I argue that if objectivism about color were correct it would have the unsavory consequence that we are rarely if ever right—perhaps never right—about the particular colors of particular things. So objectivism does not bear out common attribution of colors to the surfaces of things, after all
Smart, J. J. C. (1975). On some criticisms of a physicalist theory of colors. In Charles L. Y. Cheng (ed.), Philosophical Aspects of the Mind-Body Problem. University Press of Hawaii.   (Cited by 33 | Google)
Tye, Michael, Of colors, kestrels, caterpillars, and leaves.   (Google)
Abstract: 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 of color. This makes it very difficult to subscribe to a color realism that is supposed to be about red, green, blue, black, and white—that is, the colors with which we are perceptually acquainted.1 Similarly, Evan Thompson says