Richard Marshall interviews Jonathan Cohen in 3:AM Magazine:
3:AM: You’re a leading expert in philosophy of mind and colour has been a key focus of your thinking in this area, using it to draw out philosophically interesting questions and answers. You cite CL Hardin as bringing about a sea change in the philosophy of colour: was it because he insisted that philosophers took on board the results of science that make him so important for the field? Have the armchair philosophers of mind been banished, and is this a good thing?
JC: Hardin’s 1988 book, Color for Philosophers, was transformative because it showed how advances in color science (which, I think it’s fair to say, hadn’t been centrally on the radar of philosophers of mind and perception at the time) had the capacity to reshape longstanding philosophical disputes about color. To a crude first approximation, the landscape of philosophical options, and the kinds of considerations used to choose between those options one saw in philosophical writing about color in the decades before Hardin looked surprisingly similar to those present in philosophical writing about color in the 16th and 17th centuries, in great modern philosophers like Boyle, Galileo, and Locke. Hardin pointed out that the science of color had moved considerably forward since the modern period, and showed by example that its discoveries could constrain philosophical debates about the nature of color and color perception in new and unanticipated ways.
It is too strong to say that the armchair philosophers of mind have now been banished — there are still many good ways to do important and interesting philosophy (about color and other topics) that are motivated by different mixes of empirical and non-empirical considerations. But I do think it is an adequacy constraint on responsible philosophical theorizing that one’s views must ultimately mesh in some way with our best theories of the world. And in cases where one is arguing about a subject, such as color, language, or mind, about which there is a reasonably well-established body of empirical knowledge, this requires respecting — a fortiori knowing something about — the relevant facts. I take this not to be any special constraint on philosophical theorizing in particular, but simply a matter of being a responsible inquirer in any field. In my view, philosophical work on color scores better on this yardstick now than it did before Hardin shook the field from its dogmatic slumber.
3:AM: Hardin argued that objects weren’t coloured didn’t he, so he wasn’t a colour realist but some kind of eliminatist? Why do you disagree with him?
JC: Hardin thinks not only that philosophers should pay attention to the findings of the contemporary color sciences, but that these findings collectively amount to an exceedingly stringent set of constraints on what colors could be — indeed, that these constraints are so stringent that nothing that satisfies all of them, i.e., that there are no colors in the actual world.