Colours and Powers

Barry Stroud

in Philosophers Past and Present

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199608591
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729621 | DOI:
Colours and Powers

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In his masterly book on Locke, Michael Ayers criticizes Locke's conception of colour-words as primarily naming simple ideas of colour while ‘secondarily’ naming whatever it is in objects that causes those ideas. That view leaves open the possibility of different perceivers getting ideas of a different colour from the same object while each ‘secondarily’ applying the same colour-word to that object. Ayers thinks something like this possibility, although not Locke's way of accounting for it, must be preserved. He thinks we must be able to describe the effects of coloured objects on perceivers by applying colour-terms not directly to objects but to those ‘sensory effects’ themselves in order to capture ‘the phenomenal quality’ of our ‘sensory experience’. This chapter argues that we can describe those effects by using colour-words as true only of the objects we see, with no need for a distinctive application of them to something called ‘sensations’ or ‘impressions’. No case has been made for colour-words as standing only for the powers objects have to produce certain kinds of ‘sensations’ or ‘sensory effects’ in perceivers. The chapter goes on to sketch some of the wider implications of this for the understanding of psychological states and attitudes generally.

Keywords: Locke; Michael Ayers; colour-words; perceivers; sensations; corpuscular

Chapter.  7433 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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