1st Edition

Theories of Colour from Democritus to Descartes

Edited By Véronique Decaix, Katerina Ierodiakonou Copyright 2025
    352 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Theories of Colour from Democritus to Descartes investigates issues of the ontological status and perception of colours, such as: What is the nature of colours? Do they exist independently of the subjects who perceive them? And if so, how are they generated and how do they differ from one another? These are some of the questions raised by philosophers, but what has been lacking is an account of the various theories about colours through different periods of the history of philosophy.

    Exploring philosophical debates on the nature and perception of colours from a historical perspective, this book presents how different theories from Antiquity through the Middle Ages to the early modern era explain the nature of colours, their generation and the way they are perceived. Twelve eminent historians of philosophy analyse the theories of colours prevailing at critical points in the history of Western philosophy, from its beginnings with Democritus to Descartes and the early modern period.

    This book will appeal to students and scholars working on the history of philosophy (ancient, medieval, Arabic and Latin, and early modern) as well as those interested in contemporary philosophy: philosophy of the mind, philosophy of perception, phenomenology, metaphysics and neurosciences. A broader audience may also include researchers in psychology, cultural history and the history of art.

    Chapter 1

    Democritus on the Atomic Shapes of Colours

    Attila Németh

    Chapter 2

    Plato on the Ontological Status of Colours

    Katerina Ierodiakonou

    Chapter 3

    Aristotle on the Appearance of Colour & other Perceptibles

    Victor Caston

    Chapter 4

    Plotinus on Colours

    Pauliina Remes

    Chapter 5

    Are Colours Always There? Elements in Avicenna’s Account of Vision

    Tommaso Alpina

    Chapter 6

    Light And Colour in Averroes Between Alexander of Aphrodisias and Ibn Bāǧǧa

    Jean-Baptiste Brenet

    Chapter 7

    “Color Est Lux Incorporata Perspicuo”: Robert Grosseteste’s Definition of Colour And its (Franciscan) Legacy

    Cecilia Panti

    Chapter 8

    Colours and Their Species – Apparent or Real? Roger Bacon’s Mature Colour Theory

    Yael Kedar

    Chapter 9

    Aquinas on Colours and Visibility

    Hamid Taieb

    Chapter 10

    Dietrich of Freiberg on the Generation and Differentiation of Colours

    Véronique Decaix

    Chapter 11

    Colours in Bodies, in the Intermedium, and in the Eye in the Late Sixteenth And Early Seventeenth Centuries

    Tawrin Baker

    Chapter 12

    Colours’ Little Souls: Descartes on Sensible Qualities

    Mattia Mantovani



    Véronique Decaix is Associate Professor at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne (GRAMATA, UMR SPHERE-7219) and Junior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France. Her research focus is metaphysics and psychology during the Middle Ages, more precisely on intentionality in cognitive processes such as sensation, memory, dream and intellection. She has recently published a monograph on Dietrich of Freiberg (2021), and co-edited two volumes, Active Cognition (2020) and Memory and Recollection in the Aristotelian Tradition (2021).

    Katerina Ierodiakonou is Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Athens and at the University of Geneva. She has published extensively on ancient and Byzantine philosophy, especially in the areas of epistemology and logic. She is currently working on a monograph about ancient theories of colour, as well as on an edition, translation and commentary of Theophrastus’ De sensibus and of Michael Psellos’ paraphrase of Aristotle’s De interpretation.