Color within an internalist framework : the role of color in the structure of the perceptual system

In Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press (2010)
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Colour is, according to prevailing orthodoxy in perceptual psychology, a kind of autonomous and unitary attribute. It is regarded as unitary or homogeneous by assuming that its core properties do not depend on the type of ‘perceptual object’ to which it pertains and that‘colour per se’ constitutes a natural attribute in the functional architecture of the perceptual system. It is regarded as autonomous by assuming that it can be studied in isolation of other perceptual attributes. These assumptions also provide the pillars for the technical field of colorimetry, and have proved very fruitful for neurophysiological investigations into peripheral colour coding. They also have become, in a technology-driven cultural process of abstraction, part of our common-sense conception of colour. With respect to perception theory, however, both assumptions are grossly inadequate, on both empirical and theoretical grounds. All the same, the idea of an internal homogeneous and autonomous attribute of ‘colour per se’, mostly taken not as an empirical hypothesis but as a kind of truism, became a guiding idea in perceptual psychology. Here, it has impeded the identification of relevant theoretical issues and consequently has become detrimental for the development of explanatory frameworks for the role of ‘colour’ within the structure of our perceptual system. The chapter argues that enquiries into colour perception cannot be divorced from general enquiries into the structure of the conceptual forms underlying perception.
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