In Michael Tye's book, Consciousness, Color and Content, he illustrates his theory of perception with an example of a tomato:

"Consider, for example, the facing surface of a ripe tomato in a bowl before you. In attending to the color of the tomato, you are directly aware of a certain quality, Q, as covering that surface." [pg. 48]

Given that he speaks of Q as covering the surface of the tomato, it seems clear that Q must belong to the tomato as opposed to visual experience. He then goes on to assert that changing Q will result in changes in "what it is like for you." That's not surprising, but then he goes on to assert that the same thing holds in the case of hallucinations:

"If the tomato does not exist, still you are directly aware of Q; and if some other quality replaces Q, the phenomenal character of your experience changes." [pg. 48]

If the tomato does not exist, Q does not exist. In what sense can it be said that we can be directly aware of Q, a non-existent quality?

In another paragraph he was speaking of hallucinations and said the following:

"The objects and their surfaces could be unreal. Still, the phenomenal character of your visual experience is not a quality or cluster of qualities of your experience to which you have direct access." [pg. 47]

This seems counterintuitive. On the one hand, we have direct access to non-existent qualities, but we do not have direct access to phenomenal qualities.

How should this be interpreted?


2 Answers 2


He's used a conventional linguistic shortcut; "the surface of the tomato" actually refers to the perceived surface of the tomato.

  • That makes more sense, except that Tye speaks out against sense-data. How does the "perceived surface" differ from sense-data? Where does the red come from?
    – user3017
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 14:40
  • Science explains what causes us to see colors, but no one ever claimed colors exist outside minds. How would one prove redness is a thing outside a mind? This is why he utilizes a qualia of the object, color. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:42
  • Direct quote from wikipedia on Qualia: The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so.[ Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:42
  • The other reason, I think, he used qualia of color as opposed to space, or some other observable feature, is to avoid kantian a prior's and confusion. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:44
  • @NationWidePants. What's the connection between qualia and space? You completely lost me on that. Do you have any evidence for your interpretation? Can your answer be improved? As it stands, it looks like just a matter of opinion.
    – user3017
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:51

In example 1(ex1), Q has an origin, the tomato. (origin being a sensory perception)

In example 2 (ex2) there is, necessarily, no origin for Q, because there is no tomato.

The imagination created ex2, so it didn't originate in the eyes, or visually, at all. So, he's saying you have no access to the origin of any perception ( or knowledge, I would say, (a priori or posteriori) of any object outside the mind).

This, however, would seem to lead to the homunculus argument.

  • That still doesn't make sense to me. In the first case (ex1), there seems to be no plausible way physiologically to account for it originating in the tomato. I brought that up in another question, and no one seems to believe that it could be interpreted that way. In the second case (ex2), you're still talking about the imagination creating the non-existent.
    – user3017
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 14:14
  • I don't think he's making a claim as to HOW it happens, but rather what must necessarily, and logically, follow. The last sentence you put down seems to explain it perfectly. It's almost solipsistic claim, or so it sounds to me. It's the unknowing of the origin that is the issue, experience cannot lead to tomatoes, only to thoughts of tomatoes, so the experience of tomatoness is never equal to a tomato, therefore you don't know if the tomato is ever real, only the tomatoness experienced in the mind. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:26
  • This is why I said it's almost a homunculi paradox. The more you look for the redness of the tomato the more you find the thought in your head and lose the origin of the object itself. You cannot find tomatoes or acertain their origins. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:29
  • But it doesn't logically follow as far as I can see. If you're interpretation is correct, the I have to assume that Tye completely disregards science and believes you can get something from nothing. I'm hoping to interpret him in a way that credits him with a little common sense.
    – user3017
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:44
  • I'm guessing he did this to later only talk about the thoughts instead of the cause of those perceptions. As you said, he doesn't want to talk about eyes or perceptions outside of minds, this argument is why he's only talking about the thoughts. It explains where he's going in his discussion and why he's limiting his frame of discourse. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:48

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