ProjectObservational Properties as Superficial Properties

Basic data

Observational Properties as Superficial Properties
1/1/2017 to 6/30/2018
Abstract / short description:
I aim to develop a novel account of superficial properties, in terms of their dependence on the relevant source of information. I will argue that observational properties (colours, smells, sounds, taste) are superficial in this sense.
This will allow us to understand the relation between the qualitative aspect of the world and its non-qualitative ground. Scientific explanations aim to exhaustively
explain the material world in quantitative terms. This has generated a tendency to think that there isn’t space for the qualitative in the physical world. Observational qualities are either denied of existence and reduced to structural properties, or ‘kicked upstairs in the mind’ and identified with subjective properties of the mind. However, perception presents us with qualitative observational properties. Hence,
under this view, we would have to conclude that perception is systematically misleading.
The proposed account of superficiality will enable us to see observational qualitative properties as part of the objective world. At the same, it will enable us to unravel certain apparently intractable issues on the metaphysical status of colours, sounds, smells and taste. I will focus on colours and argue that my account of superficiality rules out certain options, namely most versions of eliminativism and will provide the background to make intelligible and to support views that understand colours as properties of the objects, such as primitivism. These views have a strong intuitive
appeal, but are often rejected on the ground of allegedly incompatible findings in neuroscience. I will consider the empirical data evoked by the opponents and show
that these data can be accommodated by primitivism in the light of the proposed understanding of superficiality.
philosophy of perception
metaphysics of colour
observational properties

Involved staff


Institute of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Media, Faculty of Humanities
Werner Reichardt Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN)

Contact persons

Institute of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Media, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Media
Faculty of Humanities


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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