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Color realism and color science

  • Alex Byrne (a1) and David R. Hilbert (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 February 2003

The target article is an attempt to make some progress on the problem of color realism. Are objects colored? And what is the nature of the color properties? We defend the view that physical objects (for instance, tomatoes, radishes, and rubies) are colored, and that colors are physical properties, specifically, types of reflectance. This is probably a minority opinion, at least among color scientists. Textbooks frequently claim that physical objects are not colored, and that the colors are “subjective” or “in the mind.” The article has two other purposes: First, to introduce an interdisciplinary audience to some distinctively philosophical tools that are useful in tackling the problem of color realism and, second, to clarify the various positions and central arguments in the debate.

The first part explains the problem of color realism and makes some useful distinctions. These distinctions are then used to expose various confusions that often prevent people from seeing that the issues are genuine and difficult, and that the problem of color realism ought to be of interest to anyone working in the field of color science. The second part explains the various leading answers to the problem of color realism, and (briefly) argues that all views other than our own have serious difficulties or are unmotivated. The third part explains and motivates our own view, that colors are types of reflectances and defends it against objections made in the recent literature that are often taken as fatal.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
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