Primary and secondary qualties

In Mohan Matthen (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception. Oxford University Press. pp. 405-421 (2016)
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The understanding of the primary-secondary quality distinction has shifted focus from the mechanical philosophers’ proposal of primary qualities as explanatorily fundamental to current theorists’ proposal of secondary qualities as metaphysically perceiver dependent. The chapter critically examines this shift and current arguments to uphold the primary-secondary quality distinction on the basis of the perceiver dependence of color; one focus of the discussion is the role of qualia in these arguments. It then describes and criticizes reasons for characterizing color, smell, taste, sound, and warmth and color as secondary qualities on the basis of our commonsense divisions among sensory modalities; Grice’s proposal for distinguishing among the sensory modalities is focal here. The general conclusion is that reasons for drawing the primary-secondary quality distinction are unconvincing.

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Peter Ross
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


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