, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 377–405 | Cite as

Qualia and the psychophysiological explanation of color perception

  • Austen Clark


Can psychology explain the qualitative content of experience? A persistent philosophical objection to that discipline is that it cannot. Qualitative states or ‘qualia’ are argued to have characteristics which cannot be explained in terms of their relationships to other psychological states, stimuli, and behavior. Since psychology is confined to descriptions of such relationships, it seems that psychology cannot explain qualia.

A paradigm case of qualia is provided by simultaneous color contrast effects, in which (for example) a neutral grey patch is made to look reddish by being enclosed in a green surround. If the qualia based objections are sound, psychology ought not to be able to explain simultaneous color contrast; but psychology at least seems to be able quite successfully to explain those effects. This paper analyzes the logic of psychological explanations of simultaneous color contrast effects, and the import of various qualia based objections to those explanations. I argue that the qualia objections do not demonstrate any explanatory inadequacy in existing psychological explanations of ‘looks’. Psychology succeeds in explaining at least some qualia. In a more positive vein, I argue that once the structure of such explanations is sufficiently understood, a place can be found for qualia within the emerging scientific account of color perception. The resulting account can deal with many of the traditional perplexities over qualia.


Psychological State Contrast Effect Qualia Objection Color Contrast Paradigm Case 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Austen Clark
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of PhilosophyUniversity of TulsaTulsaU.S.A.

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