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Res Philosophica


published on January 5, 2018

Victor Caston

Aristotle on the Reality of Colors and Other Perciptible Qualities

Recent interpreters portray Aristotle as a Protagorean antirealist, who thinks that colors and other perceptibles do not actually exist apart from being perceived. Against this, I defend a more traditional interpretation: colors exist independently of perception, to which they are explanatorily prior, as causal powers that produce perceptions of themselves. They are not to be identified with mere dispositions to affect perceivers, or with grounds distinct from these qualities, picked out by their subjective effect on perceivers (so-called “secondary qualities”). Rather, they are intrinsic qualities of objects, which are in reality just as they appear to be. At the same time, Aristotle rejects any “simple theory of color” according to which the essence and nature of colors is fully revealed in experience. Although the character of perceptibles as they are experienced is “better known to us,” their essence and nature only comes to be known through a correct theory.