Illusion of Color Article Review Sample

Reading the article “The Autonomy of Colour” written by Justin Broackes, one can meet few statements that are more disputable than others: “It is widely believed that mental and physical schemes of explanations can peacefully coexist if mental phenomena are supervenient upon physical phenomena”, suggesting that “My present perception of blue, for example, would be explained by the blueness of the mug in front of me, while the underlying visual processes were explained by whatever physical features are relevant.”

There are several theories of color in philosophy. To all appearances, the author is a dedicated follower of realism or physicalism. Color realism affirms that color is nothing else but a physical property of objects. The theory of color physicalism is close to the previous statement in a sense that it frequently means that colors are just a reflection of objects’ physical characteristics. More often than not, according to Putnam and Hilbert’s suggestions and others defenders of this point of view, the physicalist color theory involves the position when colors are related to the physical features of real objects, allowing changing incident light and the disposition to be/look colored. The following essay is an attempt to show the position why the physicalist theory is radically false. It will be done by explaining the main important objections, including similarity relations between colors, the differentiation between unique and binary hits, proving that perception phenomena can be also explained from the standpoint of color experience and knowledge, making the physicalist theory unmotivated.

Article Critique

The principal task of a philosopher is to make attempts at combining a right reason with a scientific explanation in order to get a completed structure: to explain red color as a quality of subjects, combining it with a cause-and-effect analysis. The concept of color was always an interesting question for philosophers for a number of reasons. The first and the most important one is that color can pose serious metaphysical questions, concerning nature and physical reality of human brains. Among the all possible questions that can exist on this subject, there are also inquiries concerning the color experience, knowledge, and independent reality.

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The central problem about color from the physical point of view is that science, particularly physics, can tell everything about physical objects and their qualities. That particular problem was historically developed, explained, and defended by famous physicists David Lewis and Brian McLaughlin to show that all physical objects are colored through their particular physical properties. Taking into consideration the fact that color physicalism cannot explain the color structure in full measure, this theory must be rejected.

The scientific approach contains a rather illogical color concept. In order to prove it, there is nothing else to say but cite David Ume’s comment: “Sounds, colors, heat, and cold, according to modern philosophy are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind.” This statement means that physical objects have no color, at any rate, color can be characterized as a subjective quality of one or another physical object. Answering the question “why the apple is red?” from the point of view of reasoning, the right answer is the following: if the apple is well-lighted and the individual has normal perception of color, the apple is red. It is a complicated way to argue, but this statement is less than informative. The scientific answer sounds as follows. The apple in the daylight reflects a bigger amount of long-wave length radiation than short-wave. As a result, the light detectors, situated on the eye retina, that are more sensitive to long-wave length radiation react more strongly than those detectors that are sensitive to short-wave radiation. The difference in detectors’ work is connected with coding and encoding, stimulating corresponded neural networks in the human brain. This detailed answer to a simple question can be informative, except one significant element: there is not any mention nor reference to “red” in this answer as a quality of the apple or perception of red. Fundamentally, the color of subjects can be received by an individual through visual perception only. The ideologists of the physicalist color theory show everything like this: red color is a physical quality of the apple that makes people precept /see it red, as this apple selectively reflects a part of the light spectrum. However, all three types of detectors that human eyes have are limited in their capacity to perceive the details of the light spectrum. It is, therefore, possible that different things with different spectral reflectance can look red. This fact, according to the explanation, can be related to both light-emitting objects and light-emitting diodes. The reasons why people can see red color are so physically multifarious that there is no clear position that can determine if there is something similar and stable between them.

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Some philosophers have put forward a strong argument against color physicalism based on claims about color structure. However, it is important to focus on two kinds of them: claims about the resemblance of colors and the position of unitary and binary color characteristics.

It is important to consider a few statements:

The claim that blue resembles azure rather than green relates to the resemblance of colors. The statement that azure is a binary color as far as blue is a unitary color corresponds to the unitary/binary color characteristic. The statement that blue is a unitary color cannot be true, as it has a hint of other colors from the color range. Azure or light-blue is a binary color as far as it obviously contains a hint of blue and white to some extent. There is always a position that azure is a separate entity, a mixed combination of blue and white. As the result of the previous analysis, blue cannot be explained as a combination of other separate colors, when azure can be described in the same way as blue-white. In such a manner, there are four types of unitary colors: yellow, red, blue, and green. All other colors are nothing else than binary combinations of the previous four color examples. The resemblance of colors, their characteristics, and other important aspects make the color structure. Therefore, the physicalist color theory is wrong, as it is explained by the argument of the color structure. This argument cannot be easily objected as any other popular attempts, such as simplicity of colors, because it relies on what people know about color thanks to their visual experience, combined with their concrete knowledge about reflected objects explained by psychophysics as well.

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There has been one more successful attempt to prove that physicalism is a wrong theory, using Jackson’s experiment, which suggested using a strong argument against this theory. Mary was locked in a black-and-white room, she read black-and-white books, watched lectures that were broadcasted on a black-and-white TV set. Consequently, Mary learns everything that is possible about the world’s physical structure. She knows all physical facts about people, environment – everything that was dictated by exact sciences: physics, chemistry, and neurophysiology. Moreover, Mary knows everything about casual relations between facts, including functional roles. If the physicalist theory is right, Mary should know everything she can. Supposing, the opposite means that there is always a chance for everyone to know about the subjects he or she is surrounded with to full extend, more than physical characteristics, which means that the physicalist theory should be rejected.

Alternative View

Physicalism in philosophy is an accomplished fact that the real world is primarily physical, but there is a rather provocative thesis that it is completely physical. That is why, physicalists should be of the opinion that complete physical knowledge is simpliciter complete knowledge at that. If, supposedly, knowledge is not complete, therefore, the world W should be differing from the world P, where that knowledge is complete. In such a case, physicalism will be a completely wrong theory for the world W, and a faithful axiom for the world P, without any difference between physical facts. Thus, it seems that Mary does not know everything she can. So, when she goes out of her room for the first time and watches a color TV, she will learn what television looks like. This process is called the information-translation process, in other words – a study procedure. Thus, the knowledge argument is the next important argument, proving that the physicalist color theory is completely false.

According to these claims, Paul Churchland, and some others followers of the physicalist theory argue that the knowledge argument, which has been mentioned before, cannot be based on a doubtful hypothesis that there is no logical possibility for Mary to imagine what red looks like until she sees it. The power of imagination must be a key point of this case. Controversially, the point of the dispute concerning Mary does not lie in her inability to use imagination to see red. The key argument of the discussion is that Mary, using her unbelievable imagination and understanding of all physical and neurophysiological facts and concepts, can see red, but it does not mean that she knows it. If the physicalist theory is right, the girl should know everything without using the imagination power, as it is a useful ability for people who lack knowledge. Therefore, if it is hard to believe that Mary can feel the lack of knowledge just on the basis of her logical inferences from her wide physical knowledge, it is not enough for Mary to have a strong logic and mental aptitude to fill in gaps in knowledge of any sphere. As far as it is one of weighty arguments against physicalism, to get knowledge about one or other color, s it was not enough for Mary to experience it, she had to perceive others too. When she leaves the room, she will get the experience she has never had – the experience of color perception.


The undeniable truth of the black-and-white room for both physicalist and non-physicalist lies in the fact that Mary cannot not know the facts of her experience or perception of red color as they were not excited at that moment. When she goes, the situation changes significantly as she gets information, which changes her physical substance, brain condition, functional roles. The problem of the physicalist theory is that after Mary sees her first red tomato, she realizes how poor her understanding of mental life and other process was before that moment. Moreover, she learns that during all the time she has spent in the room, there was always a lot of new complicated information around her. The life experience concerning things and their colors was obvious for others but hidden for her, which challenges her logic. As she always knew all the physical facts about those people and things, it means that all the information that Mary did not know before her escape cannot be named as a physical fact of human experience. Nevertheless, this cannot be the fact that concerns those people seriously. That is one more problem for the physicalist theory. The opposite question is what Mary has to show others, if her knowledge is not enough, in spite of the physicalist theory that her knowledge is simpliciter, the physicalist concept is absolutely failed, despite the strength of Mary’s imagination.

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Colors are everywhere. It is enough to look around to see blue, yellow, red, green – the list of colors and hints is never-ending. That is why, such a broad topic should be well approached and discussed with the help of both sciences and physiology. The article “The Autonomy of Colour” addresses the problem of color realism and thus physicalism. There are two important questions one can answer with the help of Broackes’ article. They sound like “are the objects colored?” and “what is the nature of colored objects?” The author defends the position that physical objects and properties (tomatoes, apples, and anything else) are colored and their color is a direct reflection of their physical properties. Capturing the ideas of minorities, circulating at least among the “color” scientists, this article argues that physical objects, in fact, are not colored, and the color one can see is nothing else but a subjective reflection of the reality taking place in the mind rather than in the real world. Consequently, the following essay pursues a few objective purposes. Firstly, it meets the audience with a number of philosophic instruments that can be irreplaceable for argumentation of the physicalist color theory. Secondly, the essay attempted to explain in detail the position and controversial issues of the following discussion. The first part of the essay explains the problem of color concept and perception through the physicalism theory, making some important remarks from the perspective of the unique and binary color’s analysis. The second part of the essay presents arguments against the physicalist position from the point of view of color structure, explaining it in the context of the knowledge theory, proving that all the attempts to explain the color theory only with the help of science are unmotivated.

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