Colour Primitivism and Non-Reductive Minds

May 18, 2017 - May 20, 2017
Department of Philosophy, Brandon University

Inn at the Forks, 75 Forks Market Road

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • The University of Cambridge

All speakers:

Keith Allen
University of York, UK
Justin Broackes
Brown University
University of California, Berkeley
Mazviita Chirimuuta
University of Pittsburgh
Brian Cutter
University of Notre Dame
Dimitria Electra Gatzia
University of Akron
Joshua Gert
College of William and Mary
University of Hertfordshire
University of Tokyo
Adam Pautz
Brown University


Derek Brown
Brandon University

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Colours are routinely experienced as being on things in one’s environment and in important ways correlate to base physical properties like light wavelength and reflectance. However, colours possess features (hues, similarities, opponencies) which wavelengths and reflectances arguably lack. Are colours not reducible to physical properties but instead primitive? Are colours are ‘in the head’? The first idea is that colours are primitive or non-reductive, the second is that colours are subjective or mind-dependent.

This creates a fascinating space of options. On the subjective side, colours might be reducible to neural features, or they might resist this reduction and best be construed as primitive mental properties. On the objective side, colours might be reducible to properties like light wavelength and reflectance, or they might be properties of cars and trees that cannot be reduced to basic physics. Our questions are:

  • What does each option say about the mind and in particular about whether or not the mind is reducible to basic physical properties and things?
  • How does recent scientific evidence bear on these options?

Colour is an intriguing case because the tremendous knowledge we possess about the physical bases of colour perception have in various ways failed to yield a compelling reductive theory of colour.

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