, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 513–522 | Cite as

The Myth of Unique Hues

  • Radek Ocelák


The paper examines the notion, widespread in the contemporary color science, that there are certain hues, specifically focal red, yellow, green and blue (RYGB), that are unique or privileged in human prelinguistic color perception, all other chromatic hues being perceptually composed of these. I successively consider and reject all motivations that have been provided for this opinion; namely the linguistic (unique hues as referents of necessary and sufficient color descriptors), “phenomenological” (unique hues as phenomenologically pure color experiences), and some minor or historical motivations. I conclude that, contrary to the standard opinion, there is no solid reason to claim that the RYGB hues are unique among colors in a sense that would allow for direct neurophysiological explanation. The notion also has no relevance for the construction of perceptual color spaces and is not defensible as an explanatory principle with respect to the existing crosslinguistic patterns of color categorization.


Unique hues Color Red, yellow, green, blue Color naming Categorization Opponency 



This paper draws on chapter 5 of the thesis Ocelák (2013), defended at the University of Amsterdam, under the supervision of Martin Stokhof. Valuable comments on the previous versions have been provided by him, by Lieven Decock, and by two anonymous reviewers. Any remaining faults are solely my responsibility. I am also grateful to the Dutch Nuffic for making my recent studies in the Netherlands possible. The paper gained partial support from the project GA UK 330214 “Color and Meaning” at Charles University, as well as from the Programme for the Development of Fields of Study at Charles University, No. P13 Rationality in human sciences, sub-programme Knowledge and Normativity.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Philosophy and Religious StudiesCharles University in Prague – Faculty of ArtsPrague 1Czech Republic

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