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Colour, world and archimedean metaphysics: stroud and the quest for reality


This paper proposes a fundamentally opposite conception of the possibility of metaphysics to that of Barry Stroud in The Quest for Reality and other writings. I discuss Stroud’s views on everyday ‚truth’ and metaphysics (Section 1), on interpretation (Section 2 – replying with a theory of ‚quasi-understanding’), and his ‚no threat’ claim (Section 3). But the main argument (Section 4) is a response to Stroud’s claim that we have no right either to affirm or to deny the metaphysical reality of colours. Stroud’s view resembles Carnap’s (1950, Revue Internationale de Philosophie 4, 20–40), that experience can in some sense never settle the metaphysical issue between e.g. materialism, idealism and phenomenalism; though we can allow everyday ‚knowledge’ e.g. that there is a fallen tree in the garden outside, as something available on all three views. (Carnap takes the undecidability as a sign that the metaphysical issue is a pseudo-question; Stroud insists it is factual, but places it beyond our ken, ‚external’.) I argue, instead, that metaphysical argument is possible from within our conceptual scheme and epistemic situation (as in Gareth Evans’s arguments for realism over phenomenalism); that ‚external’ and ‚internal’ questions cannot be separated as Stroud wishes; and that if we really were denied knowledge on ‚metaphysical’ matters, that would infect our right to claim knowledge of ‚observational’ matters too. And I sketch a theory of colour that would allow us to conclude (at once ‚metaphysically’ and ‚internally’) that things are indeed ‚really’ coloured. For all his expressions of sympathy for Wittgenstein, Stroud’s metaphysics is remarkably Cartesian.

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Correspondence to Justin Broackes.

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Broackes, J. Colour, world and archimedean metaphysics: stroud and the quest for reality. Erkenntnis 66, 27–71 (2007).

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  • Material Object
  • Philosophical Question
  • Fall Tree
  • Epistemic Situation
  • Normal Observer