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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The objectivity of colour-statements Harvey, Jean


The main purpose of the thesis is to investigate colour-concepts as they are applied to physical objects to see what is required if they are to meet the requirements for objectivity. The first part of the work is to set out in general terms the condition that must be met for an empirical statement to be objective, and that condition is claimed to be corrigibility. If an empirical statement is to be corrigible in the required sense, then it must be "possible" for a human being to test that statement "soundly", and mere logical possibility is not what is looked for. When someone tests an empirical statement and reaches a verdict as to its truth or falsity, that verdict is "basically sound" only if he follows the test-instructions correctly and has the minimum perceptual ability needed for that test to be reliable in the situation in which it is used. Other conditions affecting the verdict's soundness are desirable, but these two are required if the verdict is not to be rejected outright as unsound. So if any empirical statement is to be objective, it must be possible to reach basically sound verdicts about it, and so it must be possible to give sense to the soundness conditions and to detecting when they do not hold. The focus is then directed to colour-statements about physical objects-statements ascribing particular colours, such as red or green, to physical objects, and also statements about the sameness/difference in colour of a pair of objects. It is argued that it is possible to detect if two people have (qualitatively) the same perceived colours when they look at the same physical object in the same environment, even if there is a 'systematic transposition' of colours holding between them. It is also argued that for a viable concept of "the colour of a physical object" there must be a general uniformity among the perceived colours human beings have on viewing physical objects. It is this required uniformity that makes that concept anthropocentric in nature. For the uniformity to be 'non-accidental1, we need to provide a description of a human viewer's physical state, a description that will cover the vast majority of all viewers' physical states. The description I refer to as the "standard-state description"; it must describe those features of a viewer's state that are relevant to colour-vision, and there are limits as to how imprecise it can be and still retain its required role. After explaining what is involved in the concept of "the colour of a physical object", I indicate how we could derive practical tests for the particular colour of a physical object, and if we can give sense to the basic soundness condition for these tests, and to detecting when these soundness conditions do not hold, then, I claim, such statements would be objective. Finally, a condition is placed on who would count as a "fine discriminator" of physical objects by their colour, and this illuminates the anthropocentric nature of the concept of "the difference of colour between two physical objects".

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