Rodolfo Tomás Aldea – Colour as an Essentially Manifest Property

Colour as an Essentially Manifest Property – Rodolfo Tomás Aldea (Alberto Hurtado University)


The philosophy of colour is a highly active subfield in analytic philosophy, that has the attractiveness of being one of the few grounds in which metaphysical speculation and scientific data gathering share the common purpose of understanding the nature of colour: what are colours? do they even exist? Thus, it is fundamental to explore the possible tensions that may arise when integrating evidence from empirical sciences (particularly from physics and neuroscience) with ontological considerations. First, I will present two antagonistic readings, which reveal the most important empirical-ontological tensions that give rise to the contemporary philosophical discussion about the phenomenon of colour.

I will present a realist reading of colour, in terms of taking colours as objective properties of the external world, existing independently of any subject of perception. Then, I will present an idealist (or non-realist) reading, which considers that colours do not belong to the external world, since they are completely dependent on our visual system. Thirdly, I will show why both perspectives fail: realists cannot give an account that successfully identifies colour with a physical property (like wavelengths of light or spectral surface reflectance); while idealists fail into take colours as effective cognitive properties of the external world (unless they commit themselves to a theory of ‘systematic illusion’ which is very problematic).

Once these opposing readings are analysed, I will present a compatibilist solution –known as ‘relationalism’. I will argue that this approach –that asserts that colour cannot be defined independently of their effect in the perceivers, but that they are (instantiated) properties nonetheless– is the best option to understand the phenomenon of colour. However, I will also argue that the plausibility of this position will depend entirely on the possibility of answering the question of location, raised by the realist-idealist debate: where are colours to be found –out in the world, or only inside the mind?

Any relational theory of colour requires to answer the question of location, which implies facing the challenge of adequately characterizing the connection between the subjective visual experience of colour and the objective external world, avoiding the problems of both, realists and idealists. To the best of my knowledge, no version of relationalism has successfully achieved this goal.  I will present and defend a version of relationalism that seeks to consolidate the relational position in terms of understanding colour as an “essentially manifest property” (Allais, 2015), i.e., an account that characterizes colour both, as a property of objects (not of mental states, internal modifications of subjects), and a mind-dependent property of objects.

The crucial aspect of an essentially manifest property is that supports the idea of direct perceived features of objects –such as colours– that are mind-dependent but not in the mind, i.e., an account of mind-dependence that does not involve existence in the mind. Hopefully, this proposal will not answer the question of location but –even better– could potentially dissolve the question itself.