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Color for Aristotle

Grant number: 20/15938-8
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research
Effective date (Start): December 17, 2021
Effective date (End): June 16, 2022
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal researcher:Evan Robert Keeling
Grantee:Evan Robert Keeling
Host: Jennifer Elaine Whiting
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Research place: University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), United States  


The aim of this project is to understand Aristotle's theory of color. I aim to answer the following main questions: What is the nature of colors for Aristotle? What is it for an object to be colored? What colors did he recognize, and what is required for these colors to be realized? Which colors did he take as primary or basic, and in what sense? How do non-basic colors come to be? Colors are naturally perceptible, but do they have a non-perceptual nature as well? And what does this tell us about Aristotle's theories of perception and epistemology? Some preliminary answers are as follows. Colors are qualities, especially of determinate objects but they are also transmitted by indeterminate media like air and water. When they are not being perceived, they are first actualities in Aristotle's scheme. The colors of determinate objects (the red of a tomato, say) are able to change an actually transparent medium (for example, the air surrounding it). This medium is then able to change a potentially seeing eye, which then becomes an actually seeing eye and transmits the color to the central sense organ. The object, the medium, and the eye are able to do this because they all partake in transparency. Transparency, it seems, is due to something bright such as light. In the medium, it is due to the presence of light. In objects like tomatoes, it seems that it is also due to light, though they admit light to a lesser degree. Colors themselves range from leukon to melan, which are usually taken as white and black, but arguably better understood as bright and dark. Aristotle recognizes yellow, green, blue, red, purple, and grey as falling between these. The main color spectrum seems, therefore, to be based on the primary distinction between light and dark. But it is not the only way colors differ from one another: the difference between yellow and green, say, is qualitative and not only quantitive. As the primary object of vision, understanding colors and the many ways they come to be and come to be seen will help us understand perception, including what count as true and false perceptions. (AU)

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