Science and Philosophy of Color in the Modern Age

In Anders Steinvall & Sarah Streets (eds.), Cultural History of Color in the Modern Age. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 21-38 (2021)
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The study of color expanded rapidly in the 20th century. With this expansion came fragmentation, as philosophers, physicists, physiologists, psychologists, and others explored the subject in vastly different ways. There are at least two ways in which the study of color became contentious. The first was with regard to the definitional question: what is color? The second was with the location question: are colors inside the head or out in the world? In this chapter, we summarize the most prominent answers that color scientists and philosophers gave to the definitional and location questions in the 20th century. We identify some of the different points at which their work intersected, as well as the most prominent schisms between them. One overarching theme of the chapter is the surprising proliferation of different views on color. Whereas some assume that progress in science must take the form of convergence, the 20th century history of color exhibited a marked divergence in views. This chapter leaves it an open question whether an ultimate unification of views is possible, or whether the only thing that ties together the study of “color” is the shared inheritance of a word.

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Jacob Browning
New York University


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