, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 163–180

Grossmann and Millán-Puelles on the Argument from Physics


    • Universidad CEU San Pablo

DOI: 10.1007/s12133-010-0066-y

Cite this article as:
Garrido Bermúdez, J.M. Int Ontology Metaphysics (2010) 11: 163. doi:10.1007/s12133-010-0066-y


The paper focuses on Reinhardt Grossmann’s analysis of the Argument from Physics, as well as the analysis by the Spanish philosopher Antonio Millán-Puelles, in an attempt to assess the validity of the Argument on the basis of their respective critical views. Both authors agree in perceptual realism and in the need to distinguish between the scope and objects of Physics and the ordinary objects of natural perception. Their criticisms mainly concern the inappropriate use of the principle of reduction in the Argument and the distinction between secondary and primary qualities, which is, according to Grossmann, one of the sources of idealism and phenomenalism.


Argument from physicsReinhardt GrossmannIdealismAntonio Millán-PuellesPerceptionPhenomenalismPhysicalismRealismPrimary qualitiesSecondary qualities

Grossmann’s book The Fourth Way (FW) proposes a theory of knowledge which is based on the author’s radical and perceptual realism. Some pages in the book are devoted to analyzing the three main arguments that draw philosophy toward idealism and skepticism, that is, the Argument from Physics, the Argument from Hallucination, and the Argument from the Relativity of Sensing. All three reach the conclusion that our sensory experience is false and misguiding in ontological affairs, an assertion that Grossmann cannot accept. In this article, I focus on Grossmann’s analysis of the Argument from Physics,1 as well as the analysis by the Spanish philosopher Antonio Millán-Puelles, in an attempt to assess the validity of the Argument and their rejection. Grossmann is convinced that this argument is of particular importance as it forms the basis of the distinction between secondary and primary qualities, which is one of the sources of idealism and phenomenalism2.

As I deal primarily with the works by Grossmann and Millán-Puelles, I have followed the same steps as the former, considering, in turn, the authors from whom Grossmann borrows and analyzes the different reports of the argument. Millán-Puelles’ assessment of this argument can also be helpful to reach a deeper understanding of the roots of realism.

The general plan of the present article is as follows: (1) Schematic report of the argument from Physics; (2) The argument according to Galileo; (3) Grossmann’s analysis of the argument; (4) Millán-Puelles’ analysis of the argument; (5) Comparisons and conclusions.

1 Schematic Report of the Argument from Physics: Matter Reduced to Elementary Particles

What Grossmann calls “the argument from Physics”3 is not an original idea of contemporary Physics as ancient atomists had already endorsed this thesis based on scientific knowledge available in their times and on their own metaphysical reflections.4 The argument is founded on two main principles:
  1. 1.

    All body and, therefore, all perceptible object consists ultimately of elementary particles (whether these be atoms, quarks, probability functions “psy”, etc.). In other words, in the extramental world, only elementary particles and their properties exist.5

  2. 2.

    The “principle of reduction” of all the properties of a body (“complex”) to the properties of its elementary particles.

Based on these principles, the argument can be summarized in the following statements:
  1. 1.

    Every complex body consists of elementary bodies whose properties are the primary qualities and other qualities discovered by scientific research (mass, spin, electric charge, etc.).

  2. 2.

    None of these particles have secondary qualities.

  3. 3.

    Therefore, the so-called secondary qualities of a body (complex) are actually (identical to) the very properties of the elementary bodies, in other words are reducible to them (Galileo).

  4. 4.

    And the secondary qualities are either ideas in mind (Galileo and Berkeley) or they do not exist at all (Goodman and Brentano).


In a more informal manner, the argument from Physics can be reproduced in this way: as Physics has made progress unraveling the inner structure of matter, we should not be so naive as to think that our senses provide us with the real qualities of material things. Daily and ordinary perception gives us an appearance of things, not their real qualities. On the contrary, modern particle Physics identifies the properties of the elemental corpuscles of matter. These particles have no color, smell, sound, or any other similar properties, which only exist as sensations and are as variable as the conditions in which they are produced.

As Grossmann says, the argument from Physics throws the sensory secondary properties out of the “external” world.

This argument, based on the empirical analysis of matter and its reduction to elementary particles was also, until the eighteenth century, founded on the theory of Empedocles’ four ultimate elements of matter. Instead of atoms, subatomic particles, and their properties, we have earth, air, water, and fire—four different elements. However, if the differences between these elements are identical to the differences between the particles they are composed of (movement, figure, and density), then the argument from Physics is exactly the same; either we take matter as consisting of elementary particles or we refer to the four elements which are, in turn, formed by particles.

2 Galileo’s Report of the Argument

Galileo’s perspective and arguments in The Assayer6 followed a similar line of thinking in his suggestion that secondary qualities are not real properties. Like his contemporaries, he also considers matter to be fundamentally composed of the four elements and secondary qualities to be no more than the movement, figure, quantity of particles, and their speed in these four original elements. Galileo considers that there is a correspondence between the elements, on the one hand, and the kind of sensations and the external senses, on the other. In general terms, and despite some nuances that can be mentioned later, earth is associated with the sense of touch, water with taste, fire with smell, and air with the sense of hearing.

Galileo begins his explanation by making a direct connection between the element earth—in its solid state—and the qualities perceived through the sense of touch:

[…] A body which is solid and, so to speak, quite material, when moved in contact with any part of my person produces in me the sensation we call touch. This, though it exits over my entire body, seems to reside principally in the palms of the hands and in the finger tips, by whose means we sense the most minute differences in texture that are not easily distinguished by other parts of our bodies. Some of these sensations are more pleasant to us than others […]. The sense of touch is more material than the other senses; and, as it arises from the solidity of matter, it seems to be related to the earthly element.7

It is very common nowadays to include heat and cold among the qualities perceived by the sense of touch,8 but Galileo states that heat is not a quality of matter.9 Fire is composed of a group of particles that produce a sensation of heat on coming into contact with our skin, but fire itself has no heat:

I do not believe that in addition to shape, number, motion, penetration, and touch there is any other quality in fire corresponding to “heat”; this belongs so intimately to us that when the live body is taken away, heat becomes no more than a simple name.10

The stimulus causing sensations of taste and smell would correspond to the element earth when its particles lose their solidity, as Galileo explains hypothetically:

Perhaps the origin of two other senses lies in the fact that there are bodies which constantly dissolve into minute particles, some of which are heavier that the air and descend, while others are lighter and rise up. The former may strike upon certain part of our bodies that is much more sensitive than the skin, which does not feel the invasion of such subtle matter. This is the upper surface of the tongue; here the tiny particles are received, and mixing with and penetrating its moisture, they give rise to tastes, which are sweet or unsavoury according to the various shapes, numbers, and speeds of the particles. And those minute particles which rise up may enter by our nostrils and strike upon some small protuberances which are the instrument of smelling; here likewise their touch and passage is received to our like or dislike according as they have this or that shape, are fast or slow, and are numerous or few.11

Unlike the sense of touch—specializing in the element earth—taste and smell can also perceive another two elements, water and fire: the liquids, that descend, are tasted; the igneous bodies, that ascend, are smelt. Thus, a common factor of touch, taste, and smell is that they all enable us to perceive sensations of the element earth, although in varying quantity, figure, or speed.12

There is still one of the four original elements left to relate to the external senses: air, which is associated with sound and hearing. Sound comes from the interaction between a body and the air. As a scientific thinker, Galileo considers all kinds of sounds as accumulations of waves, saturated to a greater or lesser degree, which are perceived because of their action on the eardrum.

Then there remains the air itself, an element available for sounds, which come to us indifferently from below, above, and all sides—for we reside in the air and its movements displace it equally in all directions. This location of the ear is most fittingly accommodated to all positions in space. Sounds are made and heard by us when the air (without any special property of “sonority” or “transonority”) is ruffled by a rapid tremor into very minute waves and moves certain cartilages of a tympanum in our ear. External means capable of thus ruffling the air are very numerous, but for the most part they may be reduced to the trembling of some body which pushes the air and disturbs it. Waves are propagated very rapidly in this way, and high tones are produced by frequent waves and low tones by sparse ones.13

On the nature of colors, Galileo is quite cautious. As we can see from the following text, he sings the praise of sight over the other senses and makes a connection between sight and light instead of relating it to the four elements. But he also says that sight and light phenomena are too complicated for him to explain. On the other hand, he explicitly states that secondary qualities do not exist apart from sensation and can actually be defined and reduced to some primary qualities:

To excite in us tastes, odours, and sounds I relieve that nothing is required in external bodies except shapes, numbers, and slow or rapid movements. I think that if ears, tongues, and noses were removed, shapes and numbers and motions would remain, but not odours or tastes or sounds. The latter, I believe, are nothing more than names when separated from living beings, just as tickling and titillation are nothing but names in the absence of such things as noses and armpits. And as these four senses are related to the four elements, so I believe that vision, the sense eminent above all others in the proportion of the finite to the infinite, the temporal to the instantaneous, the quantitative to the indivisible, the illuminated to the obscure—that vision, I say, is related to light itself. But of this sensation and the things pertaining to it I pretend to understand but little; and since even a long time would not suffice to explain that trifle, or even to hint at an explanation, I pass this over in silence.14

2.1 Galileo’s Complementary Argument: The Tickle Sensation

In order to reaffirm the subjectivity of some sense qualities, Galileo gives an example which would imply a similarity between secondary qualities and some bodily sensations, in this case the fact of feeling a tickle.15 What happens when two different bodies brush against each other, like a statue and a human being? The two acts of touching with the hand are essentially identical. They can be reduced to the hand movements and the subsequent tactile sensations (the pressure), which are both primary qualities and intrinsic properties of every material body.

However, the touching (passive or receptive) sensation occurs differently in man than in an inanimate statue. Tickle sensations can be felt by man, but they cannot be perceived at all by a statue. Galileo considers that tickling does not depend on the touching action but instead on the living being feeling the hand caressing his/her own skin. Hence, Galileo concludes that all sensations related to secondary qualities are merely subjective and nominal, similar to the tickling sensations experienced by a feeling body. Like tickling, which is not in the active touching hand but in the touched living body, smells, sounds, and colors are not in the objects themselves (things) either, but—according to Galileo—are merely names for sensations experienced by humans or other living beings. Below, we quote Galileo’s text on this complementary argument, which is also quoted by Grossmann16:

I may be able to make my notion clearer by the means of some examples. I move my hand first over a marble statue and then over a living man. As to the effect flowing from my hand, this is the same with regard to both objects and my hand; it consists of the primary phenomena of motion and touch, for which we have no further names. But the live body which receives these operations feels different sensations according to the various places touched. When touched upon the soles of the feet, for example, or under the knee or armpit, it feels in addition to the common sensation of touch a sensation on which we have imposed a special name, “tickling”. This sensation belongs to us and not to the hand. Anyone would make a serious error if he said that the hand, in addition to the properties of moving and touching, possessed another faculty of “tickling”, as if tickling were a phenomenon that resided in the hand that tickled. A piece of paper or a feather drawn lightly over any part of our bodies performs intrinsically the same operations of moving and touching, but by touching the eye, the nose, or the upper lip it excites in us an almost intolerable titillation, even tough elsewhere it is scarcely felt. This titillation belongs entirely to us and not to the feather; if the live and sensitive body were removed it would remain no more than a mere word. I believe that no more solid an existence belongs to many qualities which we have come to attribute to physical bodies—tastes, odors, colors, and many more.17

3 Grossmann’s Analysis of the Argument

Grossmann approves the first two propositions, which are the first part of the argument from Physics (see paragraph 1). He accepts the first premise (corresponding to point 1) which explains that perceptual objects ultimately consist of fundamental particles. On this matter, he agrees that Physics has the last word about the properties of these particles and considers that one should accept the latest explanatory models on light and subatomic particles, which reject that these particles are colored, as scientific truths.18

Nevertheless, the philosopher cannot contradict the common sense idea that objects presented through perception actually have colors and that we have no good reason to doubt the fact that colors are real properties of the objects. Therefore, Grossmann’s critique of the argument must focus on the second premise (point 2), concerning the so-called principle of reduction. According to Grossmann, this principle, whose truth is conditio sine qua non for the argument’s validity, is completely false and is not applicable to the case of properties of perceptual objects.

3.1 The Principle of Reduction’s First Sense

As we have already mentioned, the principle of reduction can be understood, primarily, as meaning that properties of a “complex” thing are reducible to the properties of its particles, provided we have evidence for the existence of the latter properties and not for the former, or that a perceptual object has no other properties but those belonging to the fundamental particles. Grossmann’s analysis of the argument quotes the formulation provided by W. Sellars that “if an object is in a strict sense a system of objects, then every property of the object must consist in the fact that its constituents have such and such qualities and stand in such and such relations or, roughly, every property of a system of objects consists of properties of, and relations between, its constituents.”19

The first weak point in this assumption is that the principle is valid only in the case that an object is a system of objects “in a strict sense.” What does it mean to be a system of objects “in a strict sense?” Grossmann puts the words in inverted commas and, following his typical way of philosophizing, illustrates the problem by giving an example instead of doing a theoretical and abstract analysis. He does not state that one problem is to get the criterion to distinguish a system of objects “in a strict sense” (perhaps he thinks that this is an obvious problem), nor does he ask himself whether this criterion changes, for instance when we deal with the perception of sense qualities or when making a judgment about the existence of certain objects. However, he does submit Sellars’ example to a comparison in order to show the implausibility of his ideas.

Sellars reflects on the problem that there are some structures (in this case a ladder) consisting of parts (steps, cover, wood, etc.) that have a property (“to be a ladder”) which is not, however, a property of each part (neither the steps, cover, wood, nor any other part can be a ladder in itself). According to Grossmann’s interpretation, Sellars describes the property “to be a ladder” as a “complex property” which concerns the whole ladder, not its parts or pieces, because this property20 is actually a mere name, nothing real, just the total of joining together all of the piece’s properties.

The example provided by Grossmann as a tool for interpreting, clarifying, and, finally, rejecting Sellars’ ideas is the berkeleyan “green and round apple.” Joining both words and properties (green and round), we can get the single name (“ground”), which would be a “complex property” of the apple. However, this property is not a property of each part of the apple. And Grossmann thinks that something like this fancied complex property would be, for Sellars, the property “to be a ladder.”

According to Sellars, certain qualities, such as colors, do not consist of the properties of atomic particles as they do not have any color. Thus, a color is not the name and the property resulting from the addition of more simple and inferior properties but an irreducible property of the perceptual objects. Sellars should conclude that there is a disparity between the “scientific image” of a material object and the “manifest [ordinary] image” of the very object.21 On the contrary, Grossmann states that the perceptual object is not a structure consisting of fundamental particles because in that case, the properties of the object (such as color or figure) would be the properties of its parts or the relations between them.22

In short, the problem is that Sellars thinks that complex structures, consisting of fundamental particles, cannot have any property on their own, whereas Grossmann states that “structures (wholes) have many properties which their parts do not have, and which cannot be reduced, in the precise way described earlier, to the properties and relations of their constituents.”23

The sole viable version of the principle of reduction is that all propositions that confer a property to a system of entities are merely an abridged mode (such as “ground” is) of longer propositions about the properties and relations of the parts of the system.

By this reductive method, objects can lose not only secondary qualities but also primary ones. If the only existing criterion for determining the reality and simplicity of something is the criterion of Physics (getting the fundamental elements and determining their properties) or, in other words, if we have to divide the perceptual object in order to get its real properties, then Sellars and any other author would have to say that the being of secondary qualities is confined in the “manifest” or “phenomenical” image of the perceptual object. One could, therefore, conclude that qualities such as “being a ladder” or being “ground” or having a secondary quality (color, smell, and so on) are just names of non-existent things representing—in appearance—the authentic properties of the elements of the perceptual object.

3.2 The Second Version of the Principle of Reduction

Grossmann proposes another form of the principle of reduction that is, in fact, a more elaborate report of the first version. The second version would be like this: a property A is reducible to other properties when the occurrence of A can be inferred from these other properties and some laws. And the property that cannot be reduced in such a way is called the “emergent property.”24 As we see, the second version adds to the first the reason (or law) by which a property can be reduced to another.

Taking for granted this new way of defining a property, the occurrence of a quality, such as the green color of the berkeleyan apple, could be reduced to some specific physical laws (such as the structures of atoms in the apple’s surface, the light waves reflected in a particular moment, etc.). And, as the green color only appears in the case that the foreseen laws do happen, the conclusion is that color is neither an emergent property, nor a real quality.

However, the fact that color is not a property does not mean—as Grossmann holds—that it is a non-existent property: “What sense could it possibly make to assert in one and the same breath that the occurrence of property P is lawfully connected with the occurrence of properties Q and R, but that there really is no such property as P? The lawful connection between properties presupposes the existence of the properties so connected.”25

It is a common philosophical mistake, says Grossmann, to maintain that physicists have demonstrated that colors are identical to a certain physical property on the surface of the object. What they have actually demonstrated is that a certain physical property on the surface of the object is a necessary condition for the color to appear and that the latter occurs if and only if the former also happens. In order to explain the difference more clearly, the author gives the example of the imaginary situation that all green things in the universe are round and, only if they have the property of being round, they are green too, but this fact would never imply that the round figure is exactly the same as the green color.26

And this is also true when, instead of reasoning about properties, we argue about states of affairs: the state of affairs P (something having a green color) can presuppose the state of affairs Q (there is a particular distribution of atoms on the surface of something), but this does not imply that both states of affairs are identical.

3.3 Equivalence is Not Identity

So, according to Grossmann, the physicist has discovered an equivalence and not an identity. There is equivalence between states of affairs, such as seeing the particular color of an object and a particular distribution of atoms on the colored surface of the object. The physicist—says Grossmann—is not asking if the color he sees is identical to the distribution of atoms on the object. He is not reasoning about the pair “appearance–reality” or the pair “ordinary vision–scientific vision”, unless he/she seeks a philosophical meaning.27 The physicist’s task is to investigate the structure or composition of matter by means of some instruments and using a particular physical model of description. Here, we can observe a similarity between the arguments by Grossmann and those by Millán-Puelles as both suggest that the formal object of Physics does not entail knowing the nature of perceptual objects, but to know the composition of matter which is presented in the perceptual objects, as we can see in paragraphs 4 and 5.

The equivalence discovered by quantum Physics also includes the discovery of a lawful connection between colors and specific atomic states. What is the ontological content of this lawful connection?

Grossmann holds that this law means two things: (1) the fact of the equivalence between two events (color vision and atomic state) and (2) the logical possibility of the identity of the two events.28

In order to affirm, in this case, that a logical possibility (2) becomes a fact (1), an explanation of how equivalence can turn into identity is required. As we can imagine, Grossmann only finds arguments and explanations for the opposite, that is, for denying identity. And the reason he gives is that colors have properties and relations that atomic states do not have, and vice versa.29 His interpretation is opposed to those by H. Feigl, J. J. C. Smart, or D. M. Armstrong30 who identify secondary qualities with the material events reported in physical terms.

The law connecting the color of a perceived object and its atomic state has been discovered by Physics and should be accepted. But this does not mean we can ignore any other non-physical law, unless we adopt the “metaphysical” prejudice of the scientist who denies the existence of any non-physical law.31

Grossmann partially agrees with the berkeleyan proposition that color is a mental idea because it is not just an idea. We should also accept the extramental existence of colors, as occurs, for example, in green apples.32 In the emilianense terminology, color is object, but not a pure object.33

4 Millán-Puelles’ Analysis of the Argument

Regarding the first principle on which this argument is based, clearly nowadays we have more scientific knowledge about the composition of material bodies in atomic and subatomic levels. Grossmann, Millán-Puelles, and any other philosopher attentive to the discoveries of Physics will never deny that ordinary objects presented in perception consist ultimately of more basic particles. The existence of these particles is tested by experimental devices, although some are only demonstrated in mathematical terms. The ideas of the ancient atomists that, since long ago, have relied only on metaphysical reflection have been established more recently on the grounds of physical and mathematical verification. Elemental particles are not an object of sense perception, but, as Millán-Puelles states, of the human intelligence: “they [elementary components] are explicitly present to me in an intellectual fashion.”34

The problem in the argument from Physics, therefore, arises from the second principle which states that properties of bodies are actually reducible to the properties of their elemental parts. It is true, as Millán-Puelles mentions, that most physicists do not talk about—perhaps they are not interested in—the secondary qualities. However, some scientists, such as Galileo, have denied their existence, whereas others, such as Fechner, affirm it.35

According to Millán-Puelles, the fact that physical–mathematical science overlooks all properties apart from those reducible to quantitas neither proves nor refutes the evidence of the reality—trans-objectuality—of secondary qualities.36

The Spanish philosopher agrees with Cornelio Fabro37 in the assertion that the principle of reduction is not evident. And the lack of evidence lies in the lack of physical proof of the non-existence of secondary qualities. Because if one states that these qualities are not real based on the fact that the qualities cannot be measured quantitatively (in physical tests), one should previously verify if it is true that only quantifiable things are real. And this last verification is not within the reach of experimental science, unless science uses extra-scientific arguments which are actually philosophical interpretations of tested scientific facts.38

Therefore, the subsequent task would be to examine only the previously verified facts to find out if the irreality of secondary qualities can be deduced from them. What are, then, these verified facts? In a word, that the so-called secondary qualities are necessarily present in sense perception if some quantitative determinations are present in the material object. As, for example, colors, sounds, heat, and their respective variations are presented in sense perception only if (when) some quantitative changes occur in a material body, such as wavelength or frequency, movements of particles, etc.

As this philosopher says, the fact that “x” is an indispensable condition for “y” does not prove that “y” is reducible to “x.” It could be, for example, that “x” is a part of “y” (such as light variations or having healthy eyes seem to be indispensable conditions for perceiving changes in color, but are not identical to the change in color itself).

On the other hand, it is quite frequent that the argument in which sense qualities are reduced to quantitative variations ends up being used to support the theory that secondary qualities are irrealities, pure objects, or formally subjective sensations without trans-objectual value. However, if we take this argument together with the fact that quantity and all its possible variations are real phenomena, then it is not at all clear how it would be possible that secondary qualities are not real, “as the effect of something real is something real too.”39

If we hold the physicalist argument (or some other typical argument, such as the one from hallucination), we identify secondary qualities to a subject’s reactions to objective and heterogeneous stimuli acting upon our organic senses. Millán-Puelles judges this reduction as a “philosophical interpretation” which Physics is not properly entitled to deal with. He bases this on two grounds: first, because if sense qualities are just “subjective reactions,” then they are objects outside the range of physical objects and beyond the physical method. And, second, if any scientist investigates them, his or her starting point ought to be the knowledge of the “merely subjective”40 contents that any human—without any specialization in Physics—can reach.

Millán-Puelles’ natural realism states that “subjective reactions” are not properly sense qualities, but perceptions (of qualities), which are not in the physical scope either. And, in any case, perceptions are not “merely” subjective in the sense that they are irreal, but, on the contrary, perceptions are real—and simultaneously subjective—while the subject is perceiving.

Following the emilianense formula, the “principle of reduction” consists in reducing the “qualitative and irreal” (secondary qualities) to the “quantitative and real” (primary qualities). But, as far as this author sees, this principle, which forms the basis of the argument from Physics, clashes with two obstacles: “On the one hand, the stimuli that habitually and adequately impinge upon the organs of the outer senses are not “merely quantitative”, but are qualitative as well. On the other hand, the sensory reactions and the energy proper to each and every one of the outer senses is [are] specific in nature.”41

Regarding the first obstacle, Millán-Puelles judges that color, heat, and sounds, and all the stimuli acting upon our senses, are different qualities and cannot be reduced to merely some “disordered and chaotic local motion.”42 He finds it quite evident that the differences between the stimuli that act upon each outer sense organ cannot be explained by an exclusively quantitative parameter. Not even warmth, a secondary quality connected to the sense of touch, can be understood as a mere quantum of movement: “(…) even though the local motion of particles is chaotic or without order, it is not however bereft of qualitative determinations. On the contrary, it is affected by intensive determinations” and—he concludes—all that is intensive is qualitative, even though the inverse is not always true.43

In short, warmth (which in physics is always explained in terms of the particles’ chaotic movement) is subject to intensive changes, which means it has a qualitative nature. It seems that this thesis relies on the conviction that the formal principle of any being (substantial or accidental) is the basis of every possible quantitative change as every increase or decrease requires to be something (as substance or as accident); nonetheless, it is true that some-things cannot be intensified or abated, but they can change in another way, or they can actually turn into another thing (as the case of “shape”).

If the first inconvenience to the principle of reduction lies in the stimuli, it is logical, or “chronological,” that the next stumbling block lies in the senses and their reactions. Is it not true that the very sense organ diversity is actually a “qualitative reality?” And here, the term “diversity” does not mean the material composition of the organs in each human being, but the fact that “there is organic diversity.” In this sense, one could raise the objection that the plurality of senses is in fact the plurality of the (perceiving) subjects, and that is the reason for the merely “subjective” (taken as irreal) value of the qualities. But this objection overlooks the factual organic plurality in the subject, which itself implies different qualities. Diversity is not just a numerical quantitative change. In this sense, Millán-Puelles makes a distinction between what is “subjectual” in character (the sense organ diversity, “proper to the reality of the subject”44) and what is “subjective” (which refers to the appearances in the effective external and internal perceptions).

For a scientific–experimental reaffirmation of the plurality of the sense and stimuli, Millán-Puelles quotes J. P. Müller’s theories.45 This physiologist strongly supports the qualitative plurality on account of his own ideas about the sense organic specific energies. He does not deny qualitative differences in stimuli, nor does he reduce them, in any case, to quantitative parameters.46

However, Millán-Puelles thinks that Müller—who identifies each quality to the specific energy of the sensory organs—is in the end accepting, as a consequence, the formal subjectivity of secondary qualities and denies their trans-objectual value, at least when sense stimuli do not correspond to a given sense organ. And, in the case these stimuli do correspond, Müller would also be reducing the objects to the specific energies of the sensory organs, although he does not intend to formally reduce sensations—which are intentional in themselves—to their respective stimuli.

From the argument from Physics and the principle of reduction, we can finally make a brief comment about Millán-Puelles’ discussion on Zubiri’s idea of secondary qualities, especially on color.47 However, initially, and in general terms, it should be stressed that there is partial agreement between Zubiri and Millán-Puelles. They both agree in having to distinguish between the concepts of “real” (the “trans-objectual”, in Millán-Puelles’ jargon) and “transubjective”. Millán-Puelles actually praises Zubiri’s grace for making this distinction. But they differ in two theses: the one relating to the concept of “reality,” the other on the reality of secondary qualities.

The first disagreement can be summarized as follows: Millán-Puelles regards reality as the trans-objectual, that is, the being is not limited to any kind of objectuality or to the condition of being object, whereas Zubiri describes reality as “the formality by virtue of which what is sentiently apprehended is presented to me not as the effect of something that would lie beyond the apprehended, but as being intrinsically something “in itself” [en propio], something “of its own” [de suyo], that is to say, not only as “producing heat”, for instance, but also as “being” hot.”48 Millán-Puelles considers this particular description as ambiguous because irreality often also appears as something “in itself” and “of its own”, and the argument that a property or thing is real because it is “in itself” or “of its own” “does not shed any light on the question; it is simply a reiteration or the unmediated commission of a petitio principii” (TPO, p. 441). Nevertheless, Millán-Puelles partially revokes his own critics on the ambiguity of the expressions “in itself” and “of its own” taking into account another text by Zubiri in which these terms are used about that something formally is (formaliter as opposed to fundamentaliter), that is, in turn, coherent with Zubiri’s distinction between “producing heat” and “being heat.”

The disagreement about the nature of secondary qualities lies in the fact that Zubiri considers these qualities to be real in perception and only in perception, whereas Millán-Puelles confers color and sound a special status among the traditional set of secondary qualities affirming that both color and sound are formally real (not only real in terms of their foundation), independently of perception, with the exception of the cases of mistaken sense perceptions.49

On the principle of reduction in relation to color, Millán-Puelles points out that Zubiri is right when affirming that “color is not produced by an [electromagnetic] wave” 50, but he is wrong when he states that “color ‘is’ the wave as perceived, [that] it ‘is’ the visuoperceptual reality ‘of’ the wave itself”51 because in that case, the wave would be present simultaneously as two different realities: before our perceived sense, as color, and before our imagination or understanding as the wave itself (but never as sensory).

In this context, Millán-Puelles discusses and rejects the hypothetical solution based on the notion of “sensibile per accidens.” One could speak of colors (and sounds) as perceived waves which are perceived not “per se” but “per accidens.” This solution is not valid because “sensibile per accidens” is not formally sense-perceptible and is said to be sense-perceptible on the account of being joined to a “sensibile per se.” The problem is that “the conjunction in question is not tantamount to a formal identity of any sort, but only to the nexus existing between two really distinct factors, namely, either an accident and a substance, or two accidents. And this view cannot possibly be reconciled with Zubiri’s explicit identification of color with waves of a certain kind.”52

5 A Sort of Comparative Summary on Grossmann and Millán-Puelles

Both Grossmann and Millán-Puelles agree that bodies consist of elemental particles which have distinct properties, and research into these is the responsibility of Physics (principle of reduction, point 1). However, the inner structure of matter does not impede perceptual objects (things) from having specific properties, which are not exactly the elemental ones (on point 2). Grossmann holds that perceptual objects are “structures” and he affirms that “structures (wholes) have many properties which their parts do not have, and which cannot be reduced […] to the properties and relations of their constituents” 53. He uses the common expression “emergent property” to mean those properties that cannot be legally reduced to any other. And so, according to this argument, any secondary quality (for instance, color) is not an emergent property of the objects as they occur when at least one physical law connects other emergent properties (such as the distribution of elemental particles on a surface and the light’s wavelength). Then, following the physicalist argument, the emergent property is identical to real property or the real and original property.

The philosophical mistake in relation to point 3 of the argument, according to Grossmann and Millán-Puelles, lies in thinking that Physics proves the identity between colors (including other secondary qualities too) and a physical property on the object surface that determines the light’s absorption and reflection.54 However, the proven evidence is that the properties of elemental particles are a necessary condition for the occurrence of colors. But, proving an equivalence of properties is not to prove their identity. And Grossmann specifies that this is not the case for an identity because colors have properties and relationships that are quite different from those of elemental particles, and vice versa.55 Millán-Puelles also tackles, in his own way, the reduction of secondary qualities (“y”) to other factors (“x” = wavelengths, light intensity, etc.) that can be quantitatively expressed. He essentially agrees with Grossmann, pointing out that the conclusion “x = y” cannot be deduced just from the fact that ““x” is a condition for “y””. Besides, one has to affirm that if the causes or conditions (x) are real, then the effects (y) must be real too.56

So the argument from Physics does not provide us with reasons to exclude any metaphysical statement, unless we adopt the scientist’s anti-metaphysical prejudice, which is in fact a metaphysical viewpoint. In this context, both Grossmann and Millán-Puelles share the viewpoint57 that the formal object of Physics does not refer to the perceptual objects’ nature but to the very bodies present in perception.58

Grossmann and Millán-Puelles agree that this argument implies a “philosophical interpretation” which is inappropriate for Physics. The Spaniard argues that a Physicist defining secondary qualities as “subjective reactions” is encroaching on a strange field beyond the jurisdiction of Physics, both in object and method. If the scientist wants to study these reactions, this should be based on the “merely subjective”59 insight that he shares with any other non-specialized person.

On the other hand, Millán-Puelles draws attention to the methodological reduction performed by Physics in relation to the bodies’ qualities when this science only takes into account the qualities that can be reduced to quantity. The methodological disregard of secondary qualities is not a proof of their non-existence. For one would need to have proven beforehand that there is no other possible reality but the one which is measured by that particular method.60

As a sort of summary, Millán-Puelles points out two stumbling blocks for the argument from Physics: “On the one hand, the stimuli that habitually and adequately impinge upon the organs of the outer senses are not “merely quantitative”, but are qualitative as well. On the other hand, the sensory reactions and the energy proper to each and every one of the outer senses are specific in nature.”61

The first obstacle reminds us that the denial of secondary qualities depends on previous denial of the actual different factors or stimuli affecting the sensory organs, and that they cannot be distinguished from each other merely from a quantitative balance as we would be ignoring their difference in nature. Besides, intensive changes in factors (such as the ones in heat, light, or wave frequency which occur for the senses of touch, sight, and hearing, respectively) imply that these very factors are qualities in character. Because Millán-Puelles states—together with Gredt—that everything intensive is qualitative, although the reverse is not true. Besides, in a clear methodological difference with Grossmann, the Spanish philosopher bases his statement on the qualitative character of stimuli in J. P. Muller’s law of the specific energies of the sensory nerves. The difference resides in Grossmann’s total lack of interest in endorsing his ontology with physical/experimental proof.


I have also discussed the other two arguments in El problema de la irrealidad de las cualidades secundarias. El realismo perceptual según Antonio Millán-Puelles y Reinhardt Grossmann, Fundación Universitaria Española, Madrid, 2009, 351 pp.


Cf. FW, p. 58.


Cf. FW, p. 58 and ff.


For atomists, all the sensitive qualities of a body are dependent and reducible to figure, position, and location of atoms in the body (Cf. El problema…, Chapter III, Section 1).


This is the formulation used by Grossmann in “Reid, Meinong, and the Argument from Physics”, Metaphysica 1 (2000), p. 69: “Out there, in the non-mental world, only atoms (elementary particles) and their properties exist.”


The following quotations of Galileo’s work are taken from the text translated by Drake (1957). This volume includes three books by Galileo and some selected excerpts from The Assayer. Compare the Italian version: Il Saggiatore, in Le opere di Galileo Galilei, Firenze, Vol. VI, G. Barbera Editore. 1968, parag. 48, p. 346ff.


G. Galilei, The Assayer, in Discoveries…, p. 275. (Il Saggiatore, Section 48/p. 349: “[…] Quella sensazione che noi diciamo tatto, la quale, se bene occupa tutto il corpo, tuttavia pare che principalmente risegga nelle palme delle mani, e più ne i polpastrelli delle dita, co’ quali noi sentiamo piccolissime differenze d’ aspro, liscio, molle e duro, che non altre parti del corpo non così bene le distinguiamo; e di queste sensazioni altre ci sono più grate, altre meno, secondo la diversità delle figure de i corpi tangibili, lisce o scabrose, acute o ottuse, dure o cedenti: e questo senso, come più materiale de gli altri e ch’ è fatto dalla solidità della materia, par che abbia riguardo all’ elemento della terra”).


The human body has around 260,000 Krause’s corpuscles in the deeper level of the hypodermis, which are specialized as cold receptors. Ruffini’s corpuscles (35,000), located in the hypodermis too, are also heat receptors. But the selective or specialized character of these corpuscles is not absolute, i.e., their receptivity is not always exclusive.


Dealing with heat, he writes: “[…] first I must consider what it is that we call heat, as I suspect that people in general have a concept of this which is very remote from the truth. For they believe that heat is a real phenomenon, or property, or quality, which actually resides in the material by which we feel ourselves warmed”. G. Galilei, op. cit., p. 274. (Il Saggiatore, p. 347: “[…] questo che noi chiamiamo caldo, del qual dubito grandemente che in universal ne venga formato concetto assai lontano dal vero, mentre vien creduto essere un vero accidente affezione e qualità che realmente risegga nella materia dalla quale noi sentiamo riscaldarci”).


Ibid., p. 277–278. (Il Saggiatore, p. 351: “Ma che oltre alla figura, moltitudine, moto, penetrazione e toccamento, sia nel fuoco altra qualità, e che questa sia caldo, io non lo credo altrimenti; e stimo che questo sia talmente nostro, che rimosso il corpo animato e sensitivo, il calore non resti altro que un semplice vocabolo”).


Ibid., p. 275–276. (Il Saggiatore, p. 349: “E perché di questi corpori alcuni si vanno continuamente risolvendo in particelle minime, delle quali altre, come più gravi dell’ aria, scendono al basso, ed altre, più leggieri, salgono ad alto; di qui forse nascono due altri sensi, mentre quelle vanno a ferire due parti del corpo nostro assai più sensitive della nostra pelle, che non sente l’incursioni di materia tanto sottili tenui et cedenti: e quei minimi che scendono, ricevuti sopra la parte superiore della lingua, penetrando, mescolati colla sua umidità, la sua sostanza, arrecano i sapori, soavi o ingrati, secondo la diversità de’ toccamenti delle diverse figure d’ essi minimi, e secondo che sono pochi o molti, più o men veloci; gli altri, ch’ ascendono, entrando per le narici, vanno a ferire in alcune mammillule che sono lo strumento dell’ odorato, e quivi parimente son ricevuti i lor toccamenti e passaggi con nostro gusto o noia, secondo che le lor figure son queste o quelle, ed i lor movimenti, lenti o veloci, ed essi minimi, pochi o molti”).


As my present intention is just to show—not to discuss—Galileo’s ideas, I will merely point out that there is a lack of accuracy when expressing that particles have properties such as being subtle, delicate, and soft because softness would be in any case a property which can be perceived through the sense of touch, not through the senses of taste or smell. If Galileo’s argument is based on the fact that earth particles can be dissolved and become as soft and subtle as to become suitable for the taste and smell receptors, it is also true that the subsequent perception of those particles has nothing to do with softness or subtlety, but with odors and tastes.


Ibid., p. 276 (Il Saggiatore, p. 349–350: “Resta poi l’elemento dell’ aria per li suoni: i quali indifferentemente vengono a noi dalle parti basse e dall’ alte e dalle laterali, essendo noi constituiti nell’ aria, il cui movimento in sè stessa, cioè nella propria regione, è egualmente disposto per tuti i versi; e la situazion dell’ orecchio è accommodata, il più che sia possibile, a tutte le positure di luogo; ed i suoni allora son fatti, e sentiti in noi, quando (senz’ altre qualità sonore o transonore), un frequente tremor dell’ aria, in minutissime onde increspata, muove certa cartilagine di certo timpano ch’ è nel nostro orecchio. Le maniere poi esterne, potente a far questo increspamento nell’ aria, sono moltissime; le quali forse si riducono in gran parte al tremore di qualque corpo che urtando nell’ aria l’increspa, e per essa con gran velocità si distendono l’onde, dalla frequenza delle quali nasce l’ acutezza del suono, e la gravità dalla rarità”).


Ibid., p. 276–277. (Il Saggiatore, p. 351: «Ma che ne’ corpi esterni, per eccitare in noi i sapori, gli odori e i suoni, si richiegga altro che grandezze, figure, moltitudini e movimenti tardi o veloci, io non lo credo; e stimo che tolti via gli orecchi le lengue e i nasi, restino bene le figure i numeri e i moti, ma non già gli odori nè i sapori nè i suoni, li quali fuor dell’ animal vivente non credo che sieno altro che nomi, come a punto altro che nome non è il solletico e la titillazione, rimosse l’ ascelle e la pelle intorno al naso. E come a i quattro sensi considerati ànno relazione i quattro elemento, così credo che per la vista, senso sopra tutti gli altri eminentissimo, abbia relazione la luce, ma con quella proporzione d’ eccellenza qual è tra ´l finito e l’infinito, tra ´l temporaneo e l’ instantaneo, tra ´l quanto e l’ indivisibile, tra la luce e le tenebre. Di questa sensazione e delle cose attenenti a lei io non pretendo d’ entenderne se non pochissimo, e quel pochissimo per ispiegarlo, o per dir meglio per adombrarlo in carte, non mi basterebbe molto tempo, e però lo pongo in silenzio”).


Such an identification is akin to the one recurring among the secondary qualities, on the one hand, and pain, itching, etc., on the other. These properties (the tickle) correspond to the “emergent” properties (Sellars); in other words, these properties depend on sensations that occur in sensitive bodies and are different from the “physical” properties of inanimate nature (see Chapter 1 in Andrew Chrucky, Critique of Wilfrid Sellars' Materialism, 1990. Available at


Cf. FW, p. 6.


G. Galilei, op. cit., p. 275. (Il Saggiatore, p. 348: “Io credo che con qualche essempio più chiaramente spiegherò il mio concetto. I vo movendo una mano ora sopra una statua di marmo, ora sopra un uomo vivo. Quanto all’ azzione che vien dalla mano, rispetto ad essa mano è la medesima sopra l’ uno e l’ altro soggeto, ch’ è di quei primi accidenti, cioè moto e toccamento, nè per altri nomi vien da noi chiamata: ma il corpo animato, che riceve tali operazioni, sente diverse affezzioni secondo che in diverse parti vien tocco; e venendo toccato, v. g., sotto le piante de’ piedi, sopra le ginocchia o sotto l’ ascelle, sente, oltre al commun toccamento, un’ altra affezzione, alla quale noi abbiamo imposto un nome particolare, chiamandola solletico: la quale affezzione è tutta nostra, e non punto della mano; e parmi che gravemente errerebbe chi volesse dire, la mano, oltre al moto ed al tocamento, avere in sè un altra facoltà diversa da queste, cioè il solleticare, sì che il solletico fusse un accidente che risedesse in lei. Un poco di carta o una penna, leggiermente fregata sopra qualsivoglia parte del corpo nostro, fa, quanto a sè, per tutto la medesima operazione, ch’ è muoversi e toccare; ma in noi, toccando tra gli occhi, il naso, e sotto le narici, eccita una titillazione quasi intollerabile, ed in altra parte a pena si fa sentire. Or quella titillazione è tutta di noi, e non della penna, e rimoso il corpo animato e sensitivo, ella non è più altro che un puro nome. Ora, di simile e non maggiore essistenza credo io che possano esser molte qualità che vengono attribuite a i corpi naturali, come sapori, odori, colori ed altri”).


As far as I know, what quantum Physics calls “color charge” of particles has nothing to do with the perceived colors. On the other hand, this science establishes that isolated atoms do not have color (or this cannot be observed) and subatomic particles do not have it either as color depends on valence electrons—the outermost electrons in atoms— which take part in chemical bonds between atoms. However, some experiments that show the color of large amounts of identical atoms in particular conditions can be found. See, for example, publications by the Fermilab web of the US Department of Energy:


Sellars (1963). Quoted by R. Grossmann in FW, p. 59.


In this case, the property “to be a ladder” can be identified with the word “ladder” or its universal (concept).


See chapter 2 in Andrew Chrucky’s study on Sellars at


See R. Grossmann, “Perceptual Objects, Elementary Particles and Emergent Properties”, p. 141–142.


FW, p. 61. See also “Perceptual Objects, Elementary Particles…”, RG, p.129–132.


On this kind of reduction and on emergent properties, Grossmann quotes the work by Hempel and Oppenheim (1953): “The occurrence of a characteristic W in an object w is emergent relative to a theory T, a part relation Pt, and a class G of attributes, if that occurrence cannot be deduced by means of T from a characterization of the Pt-parts of w with respect to all the attributes in G.”


FW, p. 61.


FW, p. 62.


Grossmann illustrates this idea comparing the astronomer’s task—which in fact wants to know if the star or the planet that he once saw in space is the same as the one observed later—with the physicist’s investigation, which does not try to determine if the color he sees is the same as the state of the atoms of the colored surface (FW, 62).


In this case, Grossmann’s opinion is opposed to Armstrong’s who thinks that the connective law presupposes as “facts” both the identity and the equivalence of the two events (color vision and atomic states). The disagreement can be illustrated with their mutual disagreement dealing with the simplicity of universals, for Armstrong thinks that “physical theory gives us good reason for thinking that the phenomenologically simple qualities we perceive are in fact complex,” whereas Grossmann states that “phenomenal simplicity is for me the ultimate criterion for simplicity” and “in every case where P is phenomenologically simple, but claimed by someone else like you [Armstrong], to be really (scientifically) complex, I think of the properties of which P supposedly consists as being merely connected with it” (Cf. Phenomenological Realism versus Scientific Realism. Reinhardt Grossmann-David M. Armstrong Metaphysical Correspondence, by Javier Cumpa & Erwin Tegtmeier (Eds), Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, Paris, Lancaster, New Brunswick, 2009, 139 pp.


FW, pp. 63 and 64.


See J. J. Smart, Philosophy and scientific realism, London (etc.), Routledge and Kegan, 1966, 160 pp.; H. Feigl, Inquiries and provocations: selected writings 1929–1974 , ed. by Robert S. Cohen, Dordrecht (etc.), D. Reidel Publishing, 1981, 453 pp.; D. M. Armstrong, Bodily sensations, New York, The Humanities Press; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962, 132 pp.


Cf. FW, p. 64.


Cf. FW, p. 58.


Millán-Puelles gives a nominal definition of the pure object as “the only validity of which consists in just being given as an object in an actually conscious subjectivity” (TPO, p. 269), and he also writes: “The pure object is irreal in terms both its matter and form. In turn, an irreality does not exceed its being-an-object pure and simple, either by virtue of its matter or by reason of its form” (TPO, p. 195). The notion of “pure object” and “irreality” are equipollent, and it also means “non-existent object” (TPO, p. 269–270), which is the preferred expression by Grossmann.


TPO, p. 169.


Cf. TPO, pp. 420–421.


Cf. TPO, pp. 421–422.


Fabro (1978) [Morcelliana, Brescia, 1962].


Cf. TPO, p. 421.


TPO, p. 422.


TPO, p. 423: “In physical science, one does not conceptualize what that expression designates in a manner that would be characteristic of physics, because that is not within the scope of what is possible in physics understood precisely as physics.”


TPO, p. 424.


TPO, p. 424.


Millán-Puelles illustrates that the inverse sentence is not necessarily true by the fact that the “shape” of a thing, which is a quality, is not subject to intense variation, but only to extensive increases or decreases. See also I. Gredt. Elementa…, vol I, Pars II, caput II, Section 189.


TPO, p. 424.


The physiologist’s name is Johannes Peter. In TPO original Spanish version had been mistakenly quoted as G. Müller.


Cf. TPO, p. 424–425.


Millán-Puelles refers to Appendix 5 and paragraphs 2 and 3 in Chapter V of the Zubiri’s work Inteligencia sentiente (Tecnos, Madrid, 2004, 456 pp.).


X. Zubiri, Inteligencia sentiente, pp. 172–173.


Besides, there is another divergent opinion concerning the way we perceive secondary qualities, for Millán-Puelles contends that not only heat but all qualities (proper sensibles) of touch, smell, and taste (then, he excludes colors and sounds) are perceived as effects produced by bodies, and this is completely compatible with perceiving the whole reality of a property. However, Zubiri’s expressions “in itself” and “of its own” exclude the possibility of perceiving in such a way (as effects) and being actually real (“of its own”), precisely because when one perceives something “in itself” or “of its own,” the object is presented “not as the effect of something that would lie beyond the apprehended” (Cf. supra and note 48).


TPO, p. 442. Millán-Puelles contends that wave is not the cause of color, but cofactor in causation of color perception which is not perceived in itself (as wave).




TPO, p. 443.


FW, p. 61. See also “Perceptual Objects, Elementary Particles...”, RG, pp. 129–132.


Cf. FW, p. 62.


Cf. FW. pp. 63 and 64. He follows two Leibniz’s laws on identity: two things cannot be identical if they have different attributes and relationships.


Cf. TPO, pp. 421–422.


See J. M. Garrido, El problema de la irrealidad… (Chapter V, Section 2).


In this regard, some texts by Artigas (1999) could be explanatory. There should not be confusion about the object of sensation and the scientifically elaborated object as the principle of reduction, which is compelled by the objectivity system of each science, does not occur in the sensory primary organization, but in the imaginative and conceptual levels. Artigas states that as the possibility of experimental testing of a scientific hypothesis depends on the proximity to the observation level, we need, in order to guarantee the suitable and real experimental control capacity, a single grounded observational level that is independent from any scientific method. This is certainly, on Artigas side, a clear defense of realism, but he does not mean that the experimental testing is a kind of verification of the theoretical hypothesis by the means of “pure empirical data” as the very design of the verifying experiment excludes the possibility of getting pure empirical data (op. cit., pp. 266–267). Besides, he also points out that in the case (for example) that we transcribe (or reduce) the secondary qualities to mathematical signs in order to make them suitable for scientific calculation and method, then the science is not using those sensory qualities but, instead, an already formalized object made up from the former qualities (and these formalized objects are “pure objects,” in Millán-Puelles’ terminology).


TPO, p. 423: “In physical science, one does not conceptualize what that expression [“subjective”] designates in a manner that would be characteristic of physics, because that is not within the scope of what is possible in physics understood precisely as physics.”


Millán-Puelles quotes from and agrees with Cornelio Fabro (Percepción y Pensamiento, p. 441).


TPO, p. 424.


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