Color in a Material World: Margaret Cavendish against the Early Modern Mechanists

Philosophical Review 128 (3):293-336 (2019)
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Consider the distinctive qualitative property grass visually appears to have when it visually appears to be green. This property is an example of what I call sensuous color. Whereas early modern mechanists typically argue that bodies are not sensuously colored, Margaret Cavendish (1623–73) disagrees. In cases of veridical perception, she holds that grass is green in precisely the way it visually appears to be. In defense of her realist approach to sensuous colors, Cavendish argues that (i) it is impossible to conceive of colorless bodies, (ii) the very possibility of color experience requires that bodies are sensuously colored, and (iii) the attribution of sensuous colors to bodies provides the best explanation of color constancy. Although some passages might suggest that Cavendish endorses a reductive account of sensuous color, according to which sensuous color reduces to a body's microscopic surface texture (or some other mechanistically respectable property), I argue that she accepts a nonreductive account, on which sensuous color is not thus reducible.

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Colin Chamberlain
University College London


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