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Are colors subjective or objective or both?

Are colors subjective or objective or both?

A deep rich complicated question! A short (too short) answer would go with both, depending what you mean by 'color.' There are subjective aspects to color (perceived color), and there are objective aspects (physical properties, light properties, etc.). The big question of course is just how these two aspects are related. Are they independent in some sense, or intimately related, and if so how? Can perceived color, the perception of color, be identified with or reduced to objective properties, and if so which? There is a ton of literature on this, but you might start with the classic Larry Hardin's "Color for Philosophers."

hope that's useful -- to start

ap

A deep rich complicated question! A short (too short) answer would go with both, depending what you mean by 'color.' There are subjective aspects to color (perceived color), and there are objective aspects (physical properties, light properties, etc.). The big question of course is just how these two aspects are related. Are they independent in some sense, or intimately related, and if so how? Can perceived color, the perception of color, be identified with or reduced to objective properties, and if so which? There is a ton of literature on this, but you might start with the classic Larry Hardin's "Color for Philosophers." hope that's useful -- to start ap

A deep rich complicated question! A short (too short) answer would go with both, depending what you mean by 'color.' There are subjective aspects to color (perceived color), and there are objective aspects (physical properties, light properties, etc.). The big question of course is just how these two aspects are related. Are they independent in some sense, or intimately related, and if so how? Can perceived color, the perception of color, be identified with or reduced to objective properties, and if so which? There is a ton of literature on this, but you might start with the classic Larry Hardin's "Color for Philosophers." hope that's useful -- to start ap

One of my friends recently stated: "black is not a colour. It is the entire

One of my friends recently stated: "black is not a colour. It is the entire absence of it, both physically and neurochemically." But can this be right? I understand what my friend is saying in that things appear black when they don't emit or reflect any photons of light, and that, as a result, there is nothing for the light sensitive cells in our eyes to detect. However, in everyday life we still view black as a colour, just as we do red or green. I should probably mention that my friend is a scientist and tends to take a strictly empirical and sometimes rather reductionist view of things. Consequently, I'm keen to get a broader perspective on this question from a philosopher. So, my question then is: is black a colour? Or, perhaps more accurately, does it even make sense for us not to consider black a colour?

Here is an answer I gave on February 10 2010. For your reductionist friend I would answer that the perception of black is positive - it is not a null perception, in some sense, but nor is it the perception of nothing, so that nothing (or Nothing, rather) looks black - presumably It doesn't look any colour. I also want to add that black is not in the spectrum, obviously, for what that is worth (nothing, actually) and that "black" and "dark" have different meanings. If you take a dimmer switch and gradually increase the light in a completely dark room, as the illumination goes up, the reds get redder, the greens greener, and amzaingly the blacks get blacker! What does this tell us?

From Feb 10 2012 This is a fairly frequent concern. The correct answer is that there is a sense of "colours" in which black and white are not colours (they are not chromatic colours) and a sense in which they are colours (they are achromatic colours). So if we count the achromatic colours (black, white and grey) as colours, then black and white are colours. (Brown is an interesting case, as it is a colour which is partially achromatic.) In the same way, we can ask whether zero and infinity are numbers. Usually they are treated as numbers, and they have their own mathematical symbols. We can manipulate them in calculations and so forth. But in another sense "zero" denotes the absence of a number, and so does the symbol for an infinite number. Q: "How many chickens were there in the kitchen?" A: "A number." Q: "What is the number?" A: "Zero"! Aristotle's view was that the smallest number is two, as one of something is not a number of somethings. "There were a number of people there." How many?" "One." In this sense two is the first crowd-like or milling number. One won't mill around. Logicians face the same difficulty in explaining that in their sense "some" means only "at least one".

The situation is that colours arrange themselves into three dimensions: saturation, hue, and brightness. Hue is colourfulness, the colourfulness of red, yellow, blue, green and so on, and colourfulness does not include black, white and grey. Colourfulness is the circling hue dimension at maximum saturation, and the achromatic colours lie in their own vertical dimension at the center of the solid whose surface is this colourfulness or saturation. White has zero saturation, and we make other pigments of various chromatic colours less saturated - paler - by mixing in white pigment. (It is an interesting question why this concept - paleness - has a "special relationship" only with white.)

So at the end of the day the fact is that in one way black and white behave as colours, and in another way they work to create diminutions and absences of colour. Wittgenstein was right (in his Remarks on Colour) to see a puzzling element of necessity, a necessity as hard as logical necessity, in these striking facts.

This is a great, deep question that others will be far more qualified than I to answer appropriately. But one might perhaps start by simply recognizing a fundamental ambiguity in the notion (or meaning of the word) "color." Sometimes by that notion we imply something we take to be physical in nature, a physical property, or a property of physical bodies (or perhaps of light itself), something objective; on that view arguably black would not be a color (if indeed blackness is the absence of all light, so there would be nothing there to have that color). (I actually think that in the complete absence of light human beings see a kind of gray rather than black, but never mind.) But sometimes by "color" we mean something 'mental,' something subjective, something perceived, and here we would likely take black to be as genuine a color as any other, since we can perceive it. Of course it turns out that color conversations quickly get a lot more complicated, because it is not at all straightforward to identity...

Is color an inherent part of the universe? If colors are actually made up of

Is color an inherent part of the universe? If colors are actually made up of different wavelenghts then do colors actually only exist in our minds? How then can cameras capture colors?

Great set of questions! Lots of literature for you to investigate (starting with Hardin's "Color for Philosophers"...) But let me just say briefly here that one typically begins by distinguishing clearly and purely physical properties (like "wavelengths") from "perceived color" -- for there are many demonstrable cases where a given perceived color can NOT be matched or mapped onto any given wavelength(s), and vice versa. Once you make this distinction then it is easy to hold that wavelengths (plus other factors) CAUSE perceived color, or at least are a causal factor therein, but are not identical to them. Then you will begin to ask whether perceived color can be identified with any clearly purely physical properties and will probably find out that the answer is no. (Or if so, it might end up being a brain property -- ie when you perceive color x you are always in brain state y etc. -- but that is a far cry from what we want to normally say about colors, namely that they are properties of surfaces of bodies, or of light ....) And once you've gone this far you will be tempted to see in the distinction between perceived color and all physical properties the basis of an argument that 'colors exist only in the mind' .... (the point about cameras doesn't seem to matter -- once perceived color is distinct from all physical properties ...)

best, ap

Great set of questions! Lots of literature for you to investigate (starting with Hardin's "Color for Philosophers"...) But let me just say briefly here that one typically begins by distinguishing clearly and purely physical properties (like "wavelengths") from "perceived color" -- for there are many demonstrable cases where a given perceived color can NOT be matched or mapped onto any given wavelength(s), and vice versa. Once you make this distinction then it is easy to hold that wavelengths (plus other factors) CAUSE perceived color, or at least are a causal factor therein, but are not identical to them. Then you will begin to ask whether perceived color can be identified with any clearly purely physical properties and will probably find out that the answer is no. (Or if so, it might end up being a brain property -- ie when you perceive color x you are always in brain state y etc. -- but that is a far cry from what we want to normally say about colors, namely that they are properties of surfaces of...

Do colors have an independent existence?

Do colors have an independent existence?

A classic question, which has been MUCH discussed over the centuries -- especially with the rise of early modern philosophy and science (16th-18th centuries) -- rather than give 'the' answer let me mention some historical resources -- beginning at least wiht Galileo but especially prominent with figures like Descartes and Locke, it was recognized that colors don't fit easily/naturally into what were understood to be the genuine physical properties of things -- in Descartes's day it was thought that size, shape, and motion essentially were the only genuine physical properties, and if so, then colors -- which do not seem identifiable with those -- must be said to exist at best only in the mind, as perceivers' responses to those physical properties in objects. John Locke in particular offers numerous arguments in support of this view, you can find them easily by looking him up in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or elsewhere. But now while our conception of the physical properties of bodies has changed over the centuries, the same basic concern exists: that one cannot identify colors with the properties of objects (molecular structures), nor of light (wavelengths), nor even with the way these things interact with the physical brain. Some useful sources for these views are Larry Hardin's "Color for Philosophers" which does a great job explaining why it's so difficult to identify color as perceived with any physical properties; and then maybe Frank Jackson's classic article "What Mary Doesn't Know" (now reprinted in an anthology filled with much discussion of it) arguing that such phenomena as perceived color can't be identified with anything physical ...

best,

Andrew

A classic question, which has been MUCH discussed over the centuries -- especially with the rise of early modern philosophy and science (16th-18th centuries) -- rather than give 'the' answer let me mention some historical resources -- beginning at least wiht Galileo but especially prominent with figures like Descartes and Locke, it was recognized that colors don't fit easily/naturally into what were understood to be the genuine physical properties of things -- in Descartes's day it was thought that size, shape, and motion essentially were the only genuine physical properties, and if so, then colors -- which do not seem identifiable with those -- must be said to exist at best only in the mind, as perceivers' responses to those physical properties in objects. John Locke in particular offers numerous arguments in support of this view, you can find them easily by looking him up in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or elsewhere. But now while our conception of the physical properties of bodies has...