Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Dr Nat Hansen

Email: n.d.hansen@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:

This module introduces students to philosophical puzzles about colour: How does the language we speak affect the way we perceive colour? How do colours fit into the natural world—are they simply wavelengths of light? If so, why do we describe objects as having colours that remain constant in different lighting conditions? Does the fact that people disagree in the way they classify certain colours mean that there is no objective answer to the question what colour something is? Is “spectrum inversion” possible? That is, is it possible for something to be red for you, and green for me? How could we tell if that was the case?


Exploring the questions raised in this module will take us into debates in philosophy of language, theory of perception, metaphysics, cognitive science, and history. You will learn to use theoretical tools involved in the interdisciplinary study of colour. We will read work by Daniel Dennett, William Gladstone, C.L. Hardin, Frank Jackson, Hans Reichenbach, Debi Roberson, Eleanor Rosch, Moritz Schlick, and others.


In this module, you will acquire the ability to pursue philosophical questions from an interdisciplinary perspective, and gain a comprehensive understanding of central issues in the philosophical study of colour. You will relate comparative studies of linguistic variation to underlying facts about human physiology in order to understand the complexities of colour perception and classification. The module builds on your studies at Part 2, by drawing on your knowledge of metaphysics and mind, epistemology, and comparative approaches to philosophy.

Assessable learning outcomes:

You will gain knowledge of a topic that spans several central areas in philosophy (metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language), and that draws on extensive research in the cognitive sciences and humanities (linguistics, linguistic anthropology, psychology, psychophysics, history). You will become acquainted with various interdisciplinary approaches to colour, which will enable you to relate your philosophy research to neighboring fields. Your essay will give you the opportunity to hone your research skills in depth, and will allow you to polish your analytical writing skills acquired in Part 1 and 2 of the philosophy degree. You will also develop your ability to communicate complex ideas in a variety of formats, including in-class presentations and short writing assignments, summaries of readings, and writing and answering discussion questions.

Additional outcomes:

This module will emphasize independent learning, personal effectiveness and self-awareness as well as the ability to reflect effectively on your progress and strengths and on the goals you wish to achieve. It will enhance your global engagement and multi-cultural awareness, convey the significance of philosophical thinking in dealing with modern problems, help you appreciate multiple perspectives and the values of diversity, and encourage you to compare and contrast very different ways of doing philosophy. The module will improve your personal effectiveness through the adoption of a graduated, supervised programme for developing independent-learning skills.

Outline content:

Topics covered on the module will typically include: The relation of colour language to colour perception; the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis; universalism vs. relativism in colour naming; cognitive penetration of colour perception; the possibility of inverted spectra; colour “qualia”.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 10 hours of lectures and 5 hours of seminars during the term in which the module’s lecture and seminar classes take place. All students are required to write a single essay from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor. The essay assignment will be due in week 5 of the Summer term. In addition, students will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion in each seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the course.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 5
Guided independent study 85
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class. Some classes may involve quizzes.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in August

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 31 March 2017

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