Workshop Theme


General Theme

Colours are routinely experienced as being on things in one’s environment and in important ways correlate to base physical properties like light wavelength and reflectance. However, colours possess features (hues, similarities, opponencies) which wavelengths and reflectances arguably lack. Are colours not reducible to physical properties but instead primitive? Are colours are ‘in the head’? The first idea is that colours are primitive or non-reductive, the second is that colours are subjective or mind-dependent.

This creates a fascinating space of options. On the subjective side, colours might be reducible to neural features, or they might resist this reduction and best be construed as primitive mental properties. On the objective side, colours might be reducible to properties like light wavelength and reflectance, or they might be properties of cars and trees that cannot be reduced to basic physics. Our questions are:

  • What does each option say about the mind and in particular about whether or not the mind is reducible to basic physical properties and things?
  • How does recent scientific evidence bear on these options?

Colour is an intriguing case because the tremendous knowledge we possess about the physical bases of colour perception have in various ways failed to yield a compelling reductive theory of colour.

Conceptual framework for workshop

General issue. Do different arguments for colour primitivism support or hinder non-reductive theories of mind, and vice versa?

Primitivism to Eliminativism. Colour primitivists often assert that colours are objective. This yields difficulties in explaining various colour phenomena (e.g., the structure of colour) and leads some primitivists to endorse colour eliminativism.

  • How reliable is this inference from objectivist primitivism to eliminativism?
  • Does the inference yield any insights for non-reductive theories of the mind? Or vice versa?

Primitivism and ‘wide’ minds. Does objective primitivism receive support from extended mind theses, enactive approaches to perception, or naïve realist approaches to perception (and vice versa)?

Primitivism and subjectivism. Many recent non-eliminativist works in colour defend varying forms of colour subjectivism. The connection between colour primitivism and these ‘realist’ subjectivisms is vastly underexplored.

Primitivism and neuroscience. The search for neural correlates of colour is advancing. To justify physicalism about the mind we must offer not merely correlations but explanations. Colour is an interesting case-study: we can neurally ‘explain’ much about colour perception, though currently cannot explain how experiences of colour qualities (e.g., bluishness) arises from that processing.


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