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Primary and Secondary QualitiesThe Historical and Ongoing Debate$
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Lawrence Nolan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199556151

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556151.001.0001

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Descartes on “What We Call Color”

Descartes on “What We Call Color”

Chapter:
(p.81) 4 Descartes on “What We Call Color”
Source:
Primary and Secondary Qualities
Author(s):

Lawrence Nolan (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556151.003.0005

This chapter argues that Descartes is a color nominalist, challenging a long tradition of interpreting him as a realist. In all of the passages in which he is purported by commentators to be affirming the latter, Descartes speaks of ‘what we call colour’. His aim in these passages is not to offer a metaphysical account of so-called secondary qualities but typically to combat the Scholastic claim that our ideas of colors resemble their external causes. The source of Descartes' nominalism, it is argued, lies within his general account of how much is given in sensory experience. Most of what we take to be given is in fact the product of false judgments formed in our early childhood and exacerbated by Scholastic philosophical training. These false judgments include not only the Scholastic view that ‘colors’ are qualities in objects, but also the more fundamental position that ‘colors’ are qualities.

Keywords:   colors, Descartes, dispositions, nominalism, qualia, resemblance, Scholasticism, secondary qualities, perception

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