The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour

The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour

The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour

The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour


We say "the grass is green" or "lemons are yellow" to state what everyone knows. But are the things we see around us really colored, or do they only look that way because of the effects of light rays on our eyes and brains? Is color somehow "unreal" or "subjective" and dependent on our human perceptions and the conditions under which we see things? Distinguished scholar Barry Stroud investigates these and related questions in The Quest for Reality. In this long-awaited book, he examines what a person would have to do and believe in order to reach the conclusion that everyone's perceptions and beliefs about the color of things are "illusions" and do not accurately represent the way things are in the world as it is independently of us. Arguing that no such conclusion could be consistently reached, Stroud finds that the conditions of a successful unmasking of color cannot all be fulfilled. The discussion extends beyond color to present a serious challenge to many other philosophical attempts to discover the way things really are. A model of subtle, elegant, and rigorous philosophical writing, this study will attract a wide audience from all areas of philosophy.


This book deals with a huge metaphysical enterprise. No one could treat it exhaustively in a single book -- or lifetime -- and I do not try to. I concentrate on drawing attention to what I think are some of its distinctive features and exploring one or two of them far enough to draw some tentative morals. I do not expect agreement from many philosophers, but I do hope even those with little sympathy towards what they find here are encouraged to look again at the task of reaching intelligible and reliable metaphysical conclusions.

I write out of the conviction that philosophy is extremely difficult. That would perhaps go without saying, did not so much recent philosophizing seem to me to proceed otherwise. I find it is especially true of treatments of some of the topics I try to investigate here.

One source of the difficulty is that responses to philosophical questions tend to start too late. J. L. Austin is reported to have observed that in works of philosophy it is usually all over by the bottom of page one. I think that is right and can be confirmed by more or less random reading. What really matters is off the page and settled in the mind before the author's announced task has even begun. Here I try to go into the sources of some of the questions I take up, but without supposing that I get far enough to avoid the inveterate tendency in my own case.

Another conviction out of which I write is that philosophy is one subject and that progress in one place depends on the resolution of issues that lie elsewhere. One is led eventually into almost all other areas and questions. This is certainly true of the work of the great philosophers of the past. Against that high standard, the current professional . . .

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