Thursday, May 7, 2009


One might think that all there is to an object's being red is that object's appearing red to one in standard circumstances. Here is a potential counterexample. I gave my four-year-old son some red gelatin dessert (probably not of the Jell-O brand) and asked him what color it was. He said: "It looks red" (his slight emphasis). Now, he wasn't expressing a doubt about whether the circumstances were standard. Rather, because he is red-green colorblind, he knows there is a gap between an object's appearing red to him in standard circumstances, and its actually being red. (He agreed later that it looked "reddish green" to him. But once I told him that it was actually reddish orange, he accepted that, and from then on was very firm that it was reddish orange.) I suppose "standard circumstances" could include "standard observer", in which case there is no counterexample. In any case, the point here is that color terms for my son have a serious intersubjectivity, and perhaps objectivity, to them.

Interestingly, I think that occasionally my son bridges this gap inferentially—the object looks more like red objects do than like green objects do, so it's probably red—and sometimes he bridges it non-inferentially through an internalization of stereotyped colors. Thus, when asked about a green leaf or green grass what color it is, he instantly responds that it's green—I think he may be seeing it as green in the way in which I can see a person as old. Does he have the quale of green in the case of the green leaf or green grass, when he sees it (visually!) as green? I have no idea. If to have a quale of green is just to be non-inferentially visually appeared to greenly, then he does, since he is visually appeared to greenly, except that in his case the green appearance of the leaf depends also on shape. If the green appearance depends also on shape, it's hard to say that it has the quale of green. But maybe it does. (Suppose I heard an object as green—maybe because I could hear the molecules vibrating as they reflect green light—would that have the same quale as seeing it as green?)

1 comment:

Chris said...

If to have a quale of green is just to be non-inferentially visually appeared to greenly, then he does,...

This seems like a good argument that there is more to qualia than non-inference and connection to a particular sense. I think that's right. But I wonder whether one might object that your son's ability to be non-inferentially appeared to greenly had to have been acquired at some point. Once upon a time, it was an inference. Maybe qualia depend on some kind of original non-inference.

I'm not sure that I follow the parenthetical question. It looks like another way to suggest that there's more to a quale than non-inference. But in the case of your son you related that non-inference to a particular sense. It doesn't look like you're doing that with this question. The answer might just be "No, you'd be having the quale of hearing green."

It seems like the best argument would involve a two-fold unlearned non-inference relating to the same sense organ. I can't think of any examples. Perhaps we could imagine that your son was born with the ability to get green non-inferentially by the leaf's shape.