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I wrote the following paper for my metaphysics class. I showed the essay to a family member with a good scientific background. He told me that it was sad that philosophers had no idea about what science says about color. I remember being taught what "philosophers" say that scientists say about color in high school chemistry. But I looked up different physics and chemistry textbooks anyway, and found out that about half of them are clear on the view that philosophers attribute to what scientists say, and the other half talked about color being "visible light" without really explaining what visible light really is. I expected all science textbooks careful and thorugh in their explanations...
Anyway,.here's my essay:
According to Stroud, “Physical scientists professionally restrict their attention to the physical aspects of the world that can be captured in their theoretical network (Stroud 10).” Colors, as we see them, are not thought to be a physical aspect of the world that can be captured in the theoretical network. Yet some scientists (and some scientifically inclined people) go on one step further and declare that the colors of objects are not part of independent reality. These scientifically inclined people go from seeing how science captures physical aspects of the world, to saying that the physical aspects that are (and could ever be) captured by science are the only aspects of the universe. This further step is a metaphysical step, not a scientific one. Stroud calls the view acquired by taking this metaphysical step as physicalism, which is the view that the “physical qualities of things are all there is” in the universe (Stroud 10). Yet, there ought to be a reason for taking such a step. In other words, there ought to be a bridge between a complete physical description of the world that does not mention colors, and claiming that such description captures all there is. Mackie suggests such an argument in Problems from Locke. I will reconstruct Mackie’s argument, and then I will explain how according to Stroud, the argument does not bridge the gap it purports to bridge. Although Stroud presents fair objections, as a physicalist myself with regard to colors, I will try to hold my ground against them.
Before I present Mackie’s argument, I will elaborate further on the physicalist view. Physicalism holds that the universe as it is independet of any perceivers, is purely physical. Stroud points out that for the world to be purely physical it menas not only that the world has physical objects, but that the relations between them, and their properties, are only physical ones (Stroud 49). Providing an analysis of what is physical would take too long. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that physical properties are roughly those that Locke called primary qualities. These properties are shape, size, position, number, motion-or-rest, and solidity. Nowadays we would probably take solidity off the list, and add charge, and whatever else physicists take as physical properties. But color was not part of the list of physical properties then, and scientists still do not include it these days. How can color not be physical? Stroud explains on behalf of the physicalist that, “We must admit that things look to be coloured, and perhaps for that reason we cannot help believing that they are. But that is only how the world “appears” to us, not how it is. (Stroud 43)” So if we take the universe to be a universe in which “colors as we see them belong intrinsically to the (illuminated) surface of illuminated objects” then, we are making a “mistake, a systematic error” (Mackie 19, 11). Simply put, according to physicalism color is in some sense subjective, or not part of the universe as it it independent of perceivers.
Yet science itself does not give us this conclusion about color. Mackie admits that “physics does not itself tell us that no such properties [like color] are there.” What does physics actually say about color? As I understand it, physics says that we see color when a certain physical process occurs. This process is roughly that all illuminated objects reflect a specific wavelength of light from the light source, and the objects absorb the rest of the light. So when we see a lemon and it looks yellow to us, what goes on is that light is reflected by the lemon at a specific wavelength. These reflected light rays travel through the air, into our eyes and hit some of our seeing cells in the back of our eyes. These cells react differently depending on the wavelentght of the light rays they receive. The specific reaction of the cells is communicated to nerve cells, which communicate a certain signal to the brain. Some brain activity occurs in the brain, and voila, we see color.
Science tells a very similar story of how we experience some primary qualities i.e. shape, size and, position: When we touch or see certain objects, our sense organs are affected in some way, this effect is transmitted to the brain, and we perceive shape, size, and position. The physical process for our perception of color is quite similar to that of perception of primary qualities. So the subjectivity of color must not be due to this physical process of perception, or else the primary qualities would be subjective as well. Mackie agrees. According to Mackie, the difference between color and primary qualities is not rooted in how we come to perceive them. Rather, the difference is rooted in how science uses them (Mackie 27). Science uses primary qualities to describe, and explain, the world, but it does not use colors for any of these tasks. So what makes a property a physical property is its use by science to explain the universe.
What if one wants to take colors as primary qualities? According to Mackie, in order to be justified in taking colors to be primary qualities, we would need to postulate the existence of colors in order to explain the universe. And we would need a reason to believe that a particular color is “just as we all” perceive it (Mackie 19-20). But we have no need to postulate that colors, as we see them, inhere in the physical world in order to explain the universe. Since we do not need to postulate such existence, we should not do it. Mackie calls this step, an appeal to “the principle of economy of postulation.”
Mackie’s argument can be put as follows:
- We should include in our conception of independent reality only those properties needed by physics.
- Science does not need color in order to explain the universe.
- Color should not be included in our conception of independent reality.
Stroud agrees that “if we can use our complete physical description of the universe to explain our belief that objects are colored, “then ‘the world’ or ‘reality’ would have been shown to amount to nothing more than what that scientific account asserts” (Stroud 72). But Stroud questions the truth of premise 1, by pointing out that physics does not really explain how psychological events occur. If physics cannot explain everything, then it seems that there may be more than the properties that physics uses to explain what it can explain.
What I mean by ‘physics cannot really explain psychological events’ can be put into these two questions: Why does a particular physical process provide us with the expericne of color we have? Why when the mentioned physical process occurs, do I see a yellow lemon, instead of a green, or red one? One can conceive one’s eyes receiving the light rays of wavelength we normally receive when we see yellow, but seeing red or green instead. Why does yellow arise out something physical, and how? Neither science nor the physicalists have answered this question. Stroud points out that the Modern philosophers were aware of this problem. “What connexion is there between a motion in the nerves, and the sensations of colour or sound in the mind?” asks Berkeley; and Locke finds that, “there is no intelligible connection between those primary qualities of things and the sensations and ideas that they produce in us” (Stroud 89).
I think Stroud asks too much of the physicalist. And he would ask too much of the color realist. So it seems that the mind-body problem puts down any argument about colors. I agree that the mind body problem poses a problem, but as I see it, the problem undermines any theory of color. Hence, I don’t see it as a reason for the physicalist to abandon physicalism. Admittedly, he won’t be able to account how colors emerge out of a physical process, but all other theories that have been put forward (such as dualism or idealism) end up with difficult problems as well. We can’t account how some phenomena (such as life) arise in nature, yet that doesn’t mean people aren’t justified in holding theories that best try to explain them.
Stroud might concede my reply to this objection. After all, things do look coloured to us, so the mind-body problem somehow happens. We just do not know how. But Stroud presents a more difficult objection: If color is subjective, as pain is subjective, it seems mysterious why our thoughts of color are not analogous to our thoughts of pain. If both color and pain are supposed to be subjective responses to physical processses, why do we think colors are in objects, but we do not think pains are in objects? When we experience a pin prick, the cells under our skin react by carrying nerve impulses to the brain, and we experience pain. When we see a lemon, the cells in our eyes react in a certain way and this reaction is trasnmitted to the brain by nerve cells, and we see yellow. Yet, we speak of yellow lemons, but not of painful pins (Stroud 98).
I think the answer to this confusion lies in that when we see a lemon, we are not seeing the lemon as it really is, but rather, we have a mental representation of it. So the confusion arises from thinking that our mental representation is the lemon as it is in reality. We call the lemon yellow because it appears yellow to us, so we describe correctly its representation. But we are mistaken once we think that the lemon as it is represented in our mind, is the lemon as it is independent of perception. We do not make this mistake with pain because pain is not a representation of anything. It is purely a reaction to our interacting with the world in certain ways.
Admittedly, my response goes beyond saying that mental events somehow arise out of physical processes. Now I involve the view that representations somehow arise out of physical processes. How I’m entitled to this new view is a much more difficult problem than the mind-body problem described earlier. And what is worse, it creates the additional problem of perhaps leading me to think that we never directly experience the world, but only our representations of it. This might mean that the primary qualities would be also in some sense subjective. I think these bullets would be too big for most physicalists (including myself) to bite. I have no room to develop...
Mackie, J. Primary and Secondary Qualities. Problems from Locke
Stroud, B. The Quest for Reality
This is taken from The Quest for Reality by Barry Stroud. The paragraphs are not complete and or in the order they appear in the book...
He [Mackey] says that the literal ascription of colours to things “forms no part of the explanation of what goes on in the physical world in the processes which lead on to our having the sensations and perceptions that we have.” If the phrase ‘what goes on in the physical world’ is taken to mean ‘what is said in purely physical terms to be going on’, then it is quite true that the ascription of colours to things forms no part of the explanation of any such processes, given that no colour words appear in the physical sciences. But if those physical processes get
physically explained in that way and they do, in fact, “lead on to” our getting the perceptions we get, it cannot be said that either those processes or what physically explains them also explains our getting those perceptions of colour. That we get the perceptions we do is not something that goes on in the physical world at all, in that sense.
‘what goes on in the world that the physical sciences describe’, it is equivalent simply to ‘what goes on’. That includes everything that happens, everything that is true, in whatever terms it is expressed. Some of the things that go on in the world in that sense are that people see yellow things and come to believe that there is a yellow lemon in front of them.
Mackie would no doubt say “Yes” and defend the superiority of the purely physical explanation on grounds of simplicity or economy. What he calls the “philosophical principle” of “the economy of postulation” says that one should not postulate or introduce into one's account of the world “supposedly objective qualities of kinds
for which physics has no need”.
But the “principle” that is said to license that further step needs explanation and defence. Certainly, we should not introduce into the physical sciences something for which those sciences have no need. More generally, we should not postulate or introduce into any explanatory enterprise something that is not needed for the explanatory
task at hand. “Economy of postulation” in that sense sounds like a good idea. But then what is or is not to be postulated or introduced will depend on the particular explanatory task—on what needs to be explained. We cannot assume without further argument that the things or qualities needed for physical explanation are all that
are needed for all explanatory purposes. The physical sciences cannot explain everything. That is no defect. They might be capable of explaining everything they are supposed to explain.
But that does not imply that the physical explanation of the occurrence of that physical event also explains the occurrence of the psychological event. That is because the kind of explanation relevant to the unmasking strategy is an explanation of facts, truths, or something's being so, not of individuals or objects. What is explained by the physical story is why the physical event occurred. To explain that is to explain why the truth stated by the physical sentence is true. And that explanation does not necessarily explain why the psychological event occurred, or why the truth stated by the psychological sentence is true, even if it is one and the same event.
Even though what science says that the universe is fundamentally like has changed since the 17th Century, there is a view that goes back to the 17th century that says that whatver exists is only that which can be quantified (I'm talking about non-philosophers, or non-matematicians who've nenevr thought about worry about numbers, sets, propositions, etc.) Why do we place such big emphasis on quantification? The fact that math can be used to quantify the world, and make predictions, is an important fact. But what if there's more stuff than can be put into mathematical equations? I personally believe that there are more things than the things that can be quantified, but I feel that I need to be on the defensive about those things. It seems that quantifiable properties are accepted into the ontology of common sense without problem, but not so with non-quantifiable properties. I'm not sure why. Why does quantification provide such an easy entry into our ontology, and other properties have a much more tough time getting in? I think it might lie in the fact quantification allows for agreement among different people in different places, as to how much of some quantifiable property something is. But I think there is agreement over non-quantifiable properties. Perhaps it's hard to say how much we agree since the property is unquantifiable, but there's agreement. For example, most people agree that causing pain to another human being for the sake of enjoyment and without the consent of the other person is wrong. The only people I've read about who disagree are those who had horrible childhoods, and developed into psychopaths. So if a property such as motion can be accepted as a real property of the universe, because it can be quantified, why can't the property of moral goodness also be counted as a real property? What is so "queer" about morality, as Mackey says? Perhaps we're afraid that by opening the borders of our ontology a bit more, things like astrological things will rush in. That's a legitimate worry.
But it seems that there's more to preventing astrological and other false beliefs into one's ontology. There seems to be a view about the world that it is in some sense mathematical. That it's put together in an orderly way, and so only that which can be discovered to be expressed mathematically, seems to be what's real. While it is great that we can use math to quantify many properties and do science, what if the fact that math and the world happen to fit due to some great accident? If so, and for all secular scientist know it could be so, then why dooes quantification, and not just agreement, provide with a test of what is real? Or what if the world is indeed orderly, but mathematics can only express part of it?
This attitude I've been talking about is shared by some people who have studied science, but I doubt that real scientists maintain this position, since a several properties that were quantifiable at one point, are no longer thought to exist. For example Newtonian mass. I don't know much of this topic, but I heard from a somebody with a bachelors in physics that Newtonian mass is not thought to exist anymore, but some other mass (I forget if he called it quantum mass or Einstien mass...) Anyway, I should get back to reading an essay on descartes that got sidetracked into thinking about these issues...
When the first man transgressed the law of God, he began to have another law in his members which was repugnant to the law of his mind, and he felt the evil of his own disobedience when he experienced in the disobedience of his flesh a most righteous retribution recoiling on himself.
Well, then, how significant is the fact that the eyes, and lips, and tongue, and hands, and feet, and the bending of back, and neck, and sides, are all placed within our power - to be applied to such operations as are suitable to them, when we have a body free from impediments and in a sound state of health; but when it must come to man’s great function of the procreation of children the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had legal right over them, and sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will!
The married believer, therefore, must not only not use another man’s vessel, which is what they do who lust after others’ wives; but he must know that even his own vessel is not to be possessed in the disease of carnal concupiscence.
A man turns to use the evil of concupiscence, and is not overcome by it, when he bridles and restrains its rage, as it works in inordinate and indecorous motions; and never relaxes his hold upon it except when intent on offspring, and then controls and applies it to the carnal generation of children to be spiritually regenerated, not to the subjection of the spirit to the flesh in a sordid servitude.
Now we do not reprehend bread and wine because some men are luxurious and drunkards, any more than we disapprove of gold because of the greedy and avaricious. Wherefore on the same principle we do not censure the honourable connection between husband and wife, because of the shame-causing lust of bodies.
That chastity in the married state is God’s gift, is shown by the most blessed Paul, when, speaking on this very subject, he says: "But I would that all men were even as I myself: but every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that." Observe, he tells us that this gift is from God; and although he classes it below that continence in which he would have all men to be like himself, he still describes it as a gift of God. Whence we understand that, when these precepts are given to us in order that we should do them, nothing else is stated than that there ought to be within us our own will also for receiving and having them. When, therefore, these are shown to be gifts of God, it is meant that they must be sought from Him if they are not already possessed; and if they are possessed, thanks must be given to Him for the possession; moreover, that our own wills have but small avail for seeking, obtaining, and holding fast these gifts, unless they be assisted by God’s grace.
About a month or so ago I went to a lecture on campus called Phenomenology and Gender. I was pretty dissappointed by the lack of substantive content in the presentation. The lecturer called herself a philosopher, but thankfully she teaches in some department other than philosophy. I think that even in phenomenology there must be a certain rigour in the presentation of one's claims, and not simply point to movies and analyze them using jargon. That may be a fine academic pursuit, but I wouldn't call it philosophy, and I doubt its appropriateness at a philosophy club meeting. But I try to always take out positive things from situations I'm in. So the good thing I took from the lecture was that it got me thinking about questions I had never considered before. So at times in which I was procratinating since then and now, I read a bit on the phenomenology of gender. I'm putting my thoughts together here, although by no means I'll do so in a rigorous way (as I expected the lecturer to do). I probably should do so, but that would take a long time, and I should be writing two papers for school anyway. So the following is further exploration into the issue, and not a well formed argument. So, strictly speaking it won't be philosophy, but philosophical. The issue I'll write about centers around the concepts of body and gender; specifically around how body and gender are inter-related in our understanding of each other.
First, The Body : What is the body? How does it affect interpersonal relations?
There's a shared attitude among a lot of people that the body is seen merely as an instrument through which we relate to things and manipulate them. I even thought so at some point in my life. According to this stance the body is not who we are at all, but it's merely an instrument through which consciousness (or the self) manipulates the world. Thinkers who react against this view blame Descartes for this, but I doubt that before Descartes people had a totally different attitudes toward their bodies. Yet it is true that a dualist metaphysics is compatible with seeing oneself as separate from one's body, and it's possible that Descartes may have had some sort of influence.
One way to put pressure on this attitude about the body (that we view it as mere object), is to think of cases in which the attitude is inconsistent with some of our feelings and expectations. For example modesty in dress is something that would be difficult to conceive as we conceive it, if our bodies are not parts our who we are. Having said this, I do want to admit that our bodies do serve an instrumental purpose since it is through our bodies that we meet with others (although telecommunicaions are changing this). But I think that this instrumentality is compatible with saying that our bodies are part of who we are. Thinking otherwise leads one to say along with Mearleau-Ponty, "In so far as a I have a body, I may be reduced to the status of an object, beneath the gaze of another person, an no longer count as a person for him; or in turn, I may become his master, and in turn look at him." But clearly the quotation is not always true. I may be engrossed in a personal conversation with another person in which we are looking at each other, but we never view each other as objects but as subjects with ideas and points to get across. Objectification can happen though, and I don't deny that. Pornography is a clear case of it. And desires in the sartrean sense also count -Sartre defines desire as "an attempt to strip [another's] body of its movements and of its clothing and to make it exist as pure flesh." (Seems to me he defined 'lustful gaze')
The question that comes to mind at this point is: Can we desire that others recognize us (say at a party), without by extension desiring to become objects to be looked at? Merleau-Ponty answers that we must be able to do so because the master-slave stance "is self-defeating, since precisely when my value is recognised through the other's desire, he is no longer the person by whom I wish to be recognized." Also, presumably when we wish to be recognized we wish an encounter with others. And personal encouners happen among people who view each other as persons, not as objects.
Another way of seeing how the body is part of who we are is by phenomenology of human relations. If by definition of human relationship, how we relate to each other and the world is essentially human, I want to conlude via phenomenology that our body is essentially part of who we are as humans. This may be a murky inference, but it seems to me that were we to have completely different bodies, say bird or dinosaur bodies, we would relate to each other and the world quite differently -not humanly, but bird-ly or dinosaur-ly. Hence, the body is not accidental, but essential to our identity even if it plays instrumental roles.
Second, Gender: How does the understaing of body cast light on the understanding of gender?
For Merlau-Ponty, gender is not a property ascribed to us, but a way of being; a way of relating to the world -we relate in masculine or fmenine ways. Gender for him is not an addition to life, but a mode of life that is pervasive. It is most evident in movement, especially those bodily movements that are inherently masculine and feminine. As Heinmann explains, "Women are similar not by what they are, but how they relate [to the world]".
This view seems to support the trend in cultural anthropology and femnist theory that the masculine/feminine distinction is a cultural construct; something groundless in a proper ontology, but rather constructed from patterns of behavior into which we're socialized. Some feminists go as far to claim that even the category of sex as male or female is itself a construct because we associate a lot of stuff with the words male and female. All we can say is that there are bodies that are different anatomically in certain respects, call them body type A and type B.
I want to challenge this view by pointing to our bodies. Our bodies set constraints on how we relate to the world, and men and women do have different bodies. So if gender is a way of relating to the world, it is more than just a social construct; it is grounded (to some extent, at least) on our anatomy. For example the male anatomy lacks a womb, but a womb allows a woman to be pregnant; and pregnancy affects the woman's relation to the world. Such way of relating to the world by being pregnant can only be feminine. Hence, the world as experienced by a woman is different from the world as experienced by a man, and ultimately so by virtue of their different bodies. This difference in the experience is probably very minimal, but it is great enough to question the belief that gender is purely a social construct.
I'm especially indebted to Sara Heinmaa's book Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference.