Philosophical Studies

, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 219–231 | Cite as

Colour constancy and Fregean representationalism



All representationalists maintain that there is a necessary connection between an experience’s phenomenal character and intentional content; but there is a disagreement amongst representationalists regarding the nature of those intentional contents that are necessarily connected to phenomenal character. Russellian representationalists maintain that the relevant contents are composed of objects and/or properties, while Fregean representationalists maintain that the relevant contents are composed of modes of presentation of objects and properties. According to Fregean representationalists such as David Chalmers and Brad Thompson, the Fregean variety of the view is preferable to the Russellian variety because the former can accommodate purported counterexamples involving spectrum inversion without illusion and colour constancy while the latter cannot. I maintain that colour constancy poses a special problem for the Fregean theory in that the features of the theory that enable it handle spectrum inversion without illusion cannot be extended to handle colour constancy. I consider the two most plausible proposals regarding how the Fregean view might be developed in order to handle colour constancy—one of which has recently been defended by Thompson (Australas J Philos 87:99–117, 2009)—and argue that neither is adequate. I conclude that Fregean representationalism is no more able to accommodate colour constancy than is Russellian representationalism and, as such, ought to be rejected.


Representationalism Fregean representationalism Russellian representationalism Phenomenal consciousness Perceptual content 


  1. Arend, L., Reeves, A., Schirillo, J., & Goldstein, R. (1991). Simultaneous color constancy: Papers with diverse Munsell values. Journal of the Optical Society of America A, 8, 661–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Block, N. (1990). Inverted Earth. In J. Tomberlin (Ed.), Philosophical perspectives, 4: Action theory and philosophy of mind (pp. 53–79). Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.Google Scholar
  3. Cavanagh, P., & Leclerc, Y. (1989). Shape from shadows. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 15, 3–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chalmers, D. (2004). The representational character of experience. In B. Leiter (Ed.), The future for philosophy (pp. 153–181). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Chalmers, D. (2006). Perception and the fall from Eden. In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Perceptual experience (pp. 49–125). Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gilchrist, A. (1979). The perception of surface blacks and whites. Scientific American, 240, 112–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jacobson, J., & Werner, S. (2004). Why cast shadows are expendable: Insensitivity of human observers and the inherent ambiguity of cast shadows in Pictorial Art. Perception, 33, 1369–1383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jagnow, R. (2009). How representationalism can account for the phenomenal significance of illumination. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8, 551–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kaiser, P., & Boynton, R. (1996). Human color vision (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Optical Society of America.Google Scholar
  10. Millar, B. (2011). Sensory phenomenology and perceptual content. Philosophical Quarterly, 61, 558–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ostrovsky, Y., Cavanagh, P., & Sinha, P. (2005). Perceiving illumination inconsistencies in scenes. Perception, 34, 1301–1314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Peacocke, C. (1983). Sense and content. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Smithson, H., & Zaidi, Q. (2004). Colour constancy in context: Roles for local adaptation and levels of reference. Journal of Vision, 4, 693–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Thompson, B. (2006). Colour constancy and Russellian representationalism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 84, 75–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Thompson, B. (2007). Shoemaker on phenomenal content. Philosophical Studies, 135, 307–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Thompson, B. (2008). Representationalism and the conceivability of inverted spectra. Synthese, 160, 203–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Thompson, B. (2009). Senses for senses. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 87, 99–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Uchikawa, K., Uchikawa, H., & Boynton, R. (1989). Partial color constancy of isolated surface colors examined by a color-naming method. Perception, 18, 83–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations