Color Properties and Color Perception

Spring 2000

(Listed in course catalog as Philosophy 360: Topics in Philosophy of Cognitive Science; crosslisted as Cognitive Science 411.)

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen ( (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (732) 445 6163
home: (718) 499 1213
Office hours: Mondays 12-2PM, Psychology A132, BC (and by appointment; please feel free to call)

Course Overview -- Course Requirements -- Schedule

Course Overview

One of the most salient facts about our experience of the world is that objects appear to have color properties. This feature of our experience is both striking and pervasive. Indeed, representations of colors of objects are among the most notable deliverances of the visual modality, which is perhaps our most important source of information about the world.

In this course we'll address color from a variety of philosophical and scientific perspectives. Although the amount of time spent on each topic will be decided largely by student interest, we'll organize our discussions around the following themes:

Course Overview -- Course Requirements -- Schedule

Course Requirements

There are two requirements for the course: the paper requirement and the presentation requirement.

Course Overview -- Course Requirements -- Schedule


The following is a very tentative schedule for the course. It is tentative in two crucial respects. First, it is extremely ambitious: I would be very surprised indeed if we could cover this much material in a semester. Second, although it apportions roughly five weeks to each of the three organizing themes discussed above, I'm willing and eager to drop certain topics and spend more time on others, as is warranted by student interest. This is all the more important since students will be presenting much of this material. Therefore, in the first week we'll discuss how we want to focus our attention and how the schedule should be changed in light of this, and then we'll choose who will present each reading on the revised schedule.

Week 1: Preliminaries, laying out the territory, modification of the schedule, sign up for presentation assignments.

Week 2: Intro to Color Science
Byrne and Hilbert volume 2, "Introduction"; Hardin, Color For Philosophers, chapter 1

Week 3: Physics, Colorimetry, and Psychophysics
Nassau, "The Causes of Color"; MacAdam, "The Physical Basis of Color Specification"; Hurvich, Color Vision, chapters 5-6

Week 4: Computational Theories of Color Vision
Land, "Recent Advances in Retinex Theory"; Wandell, "Color Constancy and the Natural Image"

Week 5: Comparative Color Vision and Evolution
Shepard, "The Perceptual Organization of Colors: An Adaptation to Regularities of the Terrestrial World?"; Thompson et al., "Ways of Coloring"

Week 6: Dispositions, Dispositional Theories of Color
McLaughlin, "Dispositions" (in Blackwell Companion to Metaphysics); McGinn, The Subjective View, chapter 2; Boghossian and Velleman, "Color as a Secondary Quality"

Week 7: Dispositional Theories Continued
Johnston, "How to Speak of the Colors" (including postscript)

Week 8: Color Eliminativism
Hardin, Color For Philosophers, chapter 2; Maund, Colours: Their Nature and Representation, chapter 2

Week 9: Primary Quality Theories of Color
Hilbert, Color and Color Perception, chapters 4-5; Lewis, "Naming the Colors"; Byrne and Hilbert, "Colors and Reflectances"

Week 10: Functionalist Primary Quality Theories of Color
Jackson and Pargetter, "An Objectivist's Guide to Subjectivism about Color"; Cohen, Color Properties and Color Perception: A Functionalist Account, chapters 1-2

Week 11: Experience, Color Experience, and Identity Theories
Smart, "Sensations and Brain Processes"; Kripke, "The Identity Thesis" (= Naming and Necessity, 144-155)
(A useful background reading for those unfamiliar with issues about consciousness in philosophy of mind is Guzeldere, "The Many Faces of Consciousness: A Field Guide".)

Week 12: Intentionalist Accounts of Color Experience
Harman, "The Intrinsic Quality of Experience"; Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness, chapters 4-5

Week 13: Spectrum Inversions
Shoemaker, "The Inverted Spectrum"; Byrne and Hilbert, "Colors and Reflectances"; Hardin, "Reinverting the Spectrum"; Cohen, "Inverted Spectra, Inverted Earth, and Other Philosophical Curiosities"

Week 14: The Knowledge Argument and the Explanatory Gap
Jackson, "What Mary Didn't Know"; Levine, "On Leaving Out What It's Like"; Loar, "Phenomenal States" (second version)

Week 15: Catch Up and Summary

Course Overview -- Course Requirements -- Schedule