Colour variation without objective colour


Metaphysics of Color
Perceptual Experience
Perceptual Consciousness
Veridical Perception
Colour Relationalism
Colour Eliminativism
Perceptual Variation
Colour Variation

How to Cite

Brown, D. H. (2022). Colour variation without objective colour. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 3, 1–31.


Colour variation is the fact that what colour physical objects look to have depends on viewing conditions and a perceiver’s visual system. Both Colour Relationalists and Colour Eliminativists regard their analyses of colour variation as central to the justification for their respective views. Yet the analyses are decidedly different. Colour Relationalists assert that most instances of colour variation are veridical and infer from this that colours are relational properties of objects that are partly determined by perceivers. By contrast, Colour Eliminativists assert that colour variation is too unsystematic to ground the claim that many or most instances of colour variation are veridical. From this they infer that objects don’t have colours. I argue that the Eliminativist analysis is superior. On my view, the Relationalist account of veridical colour experience reduces to the assertion that objects have colour simply because they cause perceivers to have colour experiences of them. In this context, I argue, the resulting conception of veridicality is vacuous. More directly, the foundational idea of Eliminativism is the opposite claim: the fact that objects cause perceivers to have colour experiences of them is on its own not sufficient to justify or ground the claim that objects have colour. The Relationalist, I argue, has failed to justify anything stronger than this. In this debate we should thus side with the Eliminativist: objects do not possess colour; they merely cause us to undergo colour experiences.


Adams, Z., & Hansen, N. (2020). The myth of the common sense conception of color. In A. M. Wikforss & T. (Eds.). Shifting Concepts: The Philosophy and Psychology of Conceptual Variability (106-127). Oxford University Press.

Akins, K. A., & Hahn, M. (2014). More than mere colouring: The role of spectral information in human vision. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 65(1), 125–171.

Allen, K. (2012). Colour, contextualism, and self-locating contents. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 12(3).

Allen, K. (2016). A Naïve Realist Theory of Colour. Oxford University Press.

Arstila, V., & Pihlainen, K. (2009). The causal theory of perception revisited. Erkenntnis, 70(3), 397–417.

Averill, E. W. (2005). Toward a projectivist account of color. Journal of Philosophy, 102(5), 217–234.

Boghossian, P. A., & Velleman, J. D. (1989). Colour as a secondary quality 1. Mind, XCVIII (389), 81–103.

Bradley, P., & Tye, M. (2001). Of colors, kestrels, caterpillars, and leaves. The Journal of Philosophy, 98(9), 469.

Briggs, D. (2021). Colour spaces. In D. H. Brown & F. Macpherson (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour (140–156). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Brogaard, B. (2021). Colour synaesthesia and its philosophical implications. In D. H. Brown & F. Macpherson (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour (210–225). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Brown, D. H. (2006). On the dual referent approach to colour theory. The Philosophical Quarterly, 56(222), 96–113.

Brown, D. H. (2014). Colour layering and colour constancy. Philosophers, 14.

Brown, D. H. (2015). Colour layering and colour relationalism. Minds and Machines, 25(2), 177–191.

Brown, D. H. (2017). Colouring for and colour relationalism. Analysis, 77(2), 433–449.

Brown, D. H. & Macpherson. F. (ms). The limits of objective explanations of illusions: A case study in naive realism.

Byrne, A., & Hilbert, D. R. (2003). Color realism and color science. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26(1), 3-21; discussion 22-63.

Byrne, A., & Hilbert, D. R. (2021). Objectivist reductionism. In D. H. Brown & F. Macpherson (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Campbell, J. (1993). A simple view of colour. In John J. Haldane & C. Wright (Eds.). Reality: Representation and Projection (257–268). Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D. J. (2006). Perception and the fall from eden. In T. S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Perceptual Experience (49–125). Oxford University Press.

Chirimuuta, M. (2015). Outside Color: Perceptual Science and The Puzzle of Color in Philosophy. The MIT Press.

Cohen, J. (2004). Color properties and color ascriptions: A relationalist manifesto. The Philosophical Review, 113(4), 451–506.

Cohen, J. (2007). A relationalist’s guide to error about color perception. Noûs, 41(2), 335–353.

Cohen, J. (2009). The Red and the Real: An Essay on Color Ontology. Oxford University Press.

Cohen, J. (2012). Redness, reality, and relationalism: Reply to Gert and Allen. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 12(3).

Cohen, J. (2015). Ecumenicism, comparability, and color, or: How to have your cake and eat it, too. Minds and Machines, 25(2), 149–175.

Cohen, J., & Nichols, S. (2010). Colours, colour relationalism and the deliverances of introspection. Analysis, 70(2), 218–228.

Gatzia, D. E. (2010). The individual variability problem. Philosophia, 38(3), 533–554.

Gert, J. (2017). Primitive colors: A case study in neo-pragmatist metaphysics and philosophy of perception. Oxford University Press USA.

Hardin, C. L. (1988). Color for philosophers: Unweaving the rainbow. Hackett.

Hardin, C. L. (1992). The virtues of illusion. Philosophical Studies, 68(3), 371–382.

Hilbert, D. R. (1992). What is color vision? Philosophical Studies, 68(3), 351–370.

Johnston, M. (1992). How to speak of the colors. Philosophical Studies, 68(3), 221–263.

Kalderon, M. E. (2007). Color pluralism. Philosophical Review, 116(4), 563–601.

Kalderon, M. E. (2011). Color illusion. Noûs, 45(4), 751–775.

Langsam, H. (2000). Why colours do look like dispositions. The Philosophical Quarterly, 50(198), 68–75.

Levin, J. (2000). Dispositional theories of color and the claims of common sense. Philosophical Studies, 100(2), 151–174.

Lewis, D. (1980). Veridical hallucination and prosthetic vision. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 58(3), 239–249.

Lewis, D. (1997). Naming the colours. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 75(3), 325–342.

Macpherson, F. (2012). Cognitive penetration of colour experience: Rethinking the issue in light of an indirect mechanism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 84(1), 24–62.

Macpherson, F., & Batty, C. (2016). Redefining illusion and hallucination in light of new cases. Philosophical Issues, 26(1), 263–296.

Marshall, D. & Weatherson, B.n (2018). Intrinsic vs. extrinsic properties. In Edward N. Zalta (Ed). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition).

Matthen, M. (1999). The disunity of color. The Philosophical Review, 108(1), 47.

Maund, B. (1981). Colour — a case for conceptual fission. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 59(3), 308–322.

Maund, B. (1995). Colours: Their Nature and Representation.

Maund, B. (2006). The illusory theory of colours: An anti-realist theory. Dialectica, 60(3), 245–268.

Maund, B. (2012). Colour relationalism and colour irrealism/eliminativism/fictionalism. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 12(3).

McGilvray, J. A. (1994). Constant colors in the head. Synthese, 100(2), 197–239.

McGinn, C. (1986). The subjective view. Secondary qualities and indexical thoughts. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie, 48(2).

McLaughlin, B. (2003). The place of color in nature. In Rainer Mausfeld & Dieter Heyer (Eds.), Colour perception: Mind and the Physical World.

Noë, A. (2003). Causation and perception: The puzzle unraveled. Analysis, 63(2), 93–100.

Pautz, A. (2006). Can the physicalist explain colour structure in terms of colour experience?. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 84(4), 535–564.

Pautz, A. (2007). Intentionalism and perceptual presence. Philosophical Perspectives, 21(1), 495–541.

Peacocke, C. (1984). Colour concepts and colour experience. Synthese, 58(3), 365–381.

Roberts, P., Andow, J., & Schmidtke, K. (2014). Colour relationalism and the real deliverances of introspection. Erkenntnis, 79(5), 1173–1189.

Roberts, P., & Schmidtke, K. A. (2019). Folk core beliefs about color. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 10(4), 849–869.

Russell, B. (1912). The Problems of Philosophy. Barnes & Noble.

Russell, B. (2020). Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.

Strawson, P. F. (1974). Causation in perception. In Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays. Methuen (Reprinted by Routledge).

Watkins, M. (2005). Seeing red, the metaphysics of colours without the physics. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 83(1), 33–52.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2022 Derek Brown