3. Lichtenberg says that very few people have ever seen pure white. So do most people use the word wrong, then? And how did he learn the correct use? – He constructed an ideal use from the ordinary one. And that is not to say a better one, but one that has been refined along certain lines and in the process something has been carried to extremes.

4. And of course such a construct may in turn teach us something about the way we in fact use the word.

5. If I say a piece of paper is pure white, and if snow were placed next to it and it then appeared grey, in its normal surroundings I would still be right in calling it white and not light grey. It could be that I use a more refined concept of white in, say, a laboratory (where, for example, I also use a more refined concept of precise determination of time).

8. People might have the concept of intermediary colours or mixed colours even if they never produced colours by mixing (in whatever sense). Their language-games might only have to do with looking for or selecting already existing intermediary or blended colours.

9. Even if green is not an intermediary colour between yellow and blue, couldn’t there be people for whom there is a bluish-yellow, reddish-green? I.e. people whose colour concepts deviate from ours – because, after all, the colour concepts of colour-blind  people too deviate from those of normal people, and not every deviation from the norm must be a blindness, a defect.

13. Imagine a tribe of colour-blind people, and there could easily be one. They would not have the same colour concepts as we do. For even assuming they speak, e.g. English, and thus have all the English colour words, they would still use them differently than we do and would learn their use differently. Or if they have a foreign language, it would be difficult for us to translate their colour words into ours.

14. Bit even if there were also people for whom it was natural to use the expressions “reddish-green” or “yellowish-blue” in a consistent manner and who perhaps also exhibit abilities which we lack, we would still not be forced to recognize that they see colours which we do not see.  There is, after all, no commonly accepted criterion for what is a colour, unless it is one of our colours.

15. In every serious philosophical question uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem. We must always be prepared to learn something totally new.

22. We  do not want to establish a theory of colour (neither a physiological one nor a psychological one), but rather the logic of colour concepts. And this accomplishes what people have often unjustly expected of a theory.

33. We speak of the ‘colour of gold’ and do not mean yellow. “Gold- coloured” is the property of a surface that shins or glitters.

34. There is the glow of red-hot and of white-hot: but what would brown-hot and grey-hot look like? Why can’t we conceive of these as a lower degree of white-hot?

40. For the fact that we cannot conceive of something ‘glowing grey’ belongs neither to the physics or the psychology of colour.

54. It is easy to see that not all colour concepts are logically of the same sort, e.g. the difference between the concepts ‘colour of gold’ or ‘colour of silver” and ‘yellow’ or ‘grey.”

58. Imagine someone pointing to a place in the iris of a Rembrandt eye and saying: “The walls in my room should be painted this colour.”

62. The fact that I can say this place in my visual field is grey-green does not mean that I know what should be called an exact reproduction of this shade of colour.

63. I see in a photograph (not a colour photograph) a man with dark hair and a boy with slicked-back blond hair standing in front of a kind of lathe, which is made in part of castings painted black, and in part of smooth axles, gears, etc., and next to it a grating made of light galvanized wire. I see the finished iron surfaces as iron- coloured, the boy’s hair as blond, the grating as zinc- coloured, despite the fact that everything is depicted in lighter and darker tones of the photographic paper.

67. Look at your room late in the evening when you can hardly distinguish between colours any longer – and now turn on the light and paint what you saw earlier in the semi-darkness.

68. When we’re asked “What do the words ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘black’, ‘white’ mean?” we can, of course, immediately point to things which have these colours, –but our ability to explain the meanings of these words goes no further! For the rest, we have either no idea at all of their use, or a very rough and to some extent false one.

85. But can I believe that I see and be blind, or believe that I’m blind and see?


11. In philosophy we must always ask: “How must we look at this problem in order for it to become solvable?”

12. For here (when I consider colours, for example) there is merely an inability to bring the concepts into some kind of order.  We stand there like the ox in front of the newly –painted stall door.


16. I assume that certain chemical compounds e.g the salts of a given acid, have saturated colours and could be recognized by them.

17. Or you could tell where certain flowers come from by their saturated colours, e.g. you could say, “That must be an alpine flower because its colour is so intense.”

20. (The wrong picture confuses, the right picture helps).

30. Ask this questions: Do you know what “reddish” means? And how do you show that you know it?

Language-games: “Point to a reddish yellow (white, blue, brown) – “Point to an even more reddish one” – “A less reddish one” etc.

Now that you’ve mastered this game you will be told “Point to a somewhat reddish green” Assume there are two cases: Either you do point to a colour (and always the same one), perhaps to an olive green – or you say, “I don’t know what that means,” or “There’s no such thing.”

We might be inclined to say that the one person had a different colour concept from the other; or a different concept of “…ish.”

43. In philosophy it is not enough to learn in every case what is to be said about a subject, but also how one must speak about it. We are always having to begin by learning the method of tackling it.

45. One must always be prepared to learn something totally new.

59. In everyday life we are virtually surrounded by impure colours. All the more remarkable that we have formed a concept of pure colours.

61. We must always bear in mind the question: How do people learn the meaning of colour names?

65. “Brown light.” Suppose someone were to suggest that a traffic light be brown.

68. Let us imagine that someone were to paint something from nature and in its natural colours. Every bit of the surface of such a painting has a definite colour. What colour? How do I determine its name? Should we, e.g. use the name which the pigment applied to it is sold? But mightn’t such a pigment look completely different in its special surrounding than on the palette?

69. So perhaps we would then start to give special names to small coloured patches on a black background (for example). What I really want to show here is that it is not at all clear a priori which are the simple colour concepts.

71. I treat colour concepts like the concepts of sensations.

72. The colour concepts are to be treated like the concepts of sensations.

73.  There is no such thing as the pure colour concept.

79. There is gold paint, but Rembrandt didn’t use it to paint a golden helmet.

89. A colour which would be ‘dirty’ if it were the colour of a wall, needn’t be so in a painting.

100. Golden is a surface colour.

101. We have prejudices with respect to the use of words.

104. ‘Dark’ and ‘blackish’ are not the same concept.

152. Mightn’t shiny black and matt black have different colour-names?

240. If we taught a child the colour concepts by pointing to coloured flames, or colour transparent bodies, the peculiarity of white, grey, and black would show up more clearly.

241. It is easy to see that not all colour concepts are logically of the same kind. It is easy to see the difference between the concepts: ‘the colour of gold’ or ‘the colour of silver’ and ‘yellow’ or ‘grey.” But it is hard to see that there is a somewhat related difference between ‘white’ and ‘red.”

245. Whether I see something as grey or as white can depend upon how I see the things around me illumined. To me in one context the colour is white in poor light, in another it is grey in good light.

251. The difficulties which we encounter when we reflect about the nature of colours (those difficulties which Goethe wanted to deal with through his theory of colour) are contained in the fact that we have not one but several related concepts of the sameness of colours.

255. Our colour concepts sometimes relate to substances (Snow is white), sometimes to surfaces (this table is brown), sometimes to the illumination (in the reddish evening light), sometimes to transparent bodies. And isn’t there also an application to a place in the visual field, logically independent of a spatial context?

Can’t I say “there I see white” (and paint it, for example) even if I can’t in any way give a three-dimensional interpretation of the visual image? (Spots of colour). (I am thinking of pointillist painting).

256. To be able generally to name a colour, is not the same as being able to copy is exactly. I can perhaps say, “There I see a reddish place” and yet I can’t mix a colour that I recognize as being exactly the same.

257. Try, for example, to pain what you see when you close your eyes! And yet you can roughly describe it.

271. Do I actually see the boy’s hair blond in the photograph?! –  Do I see it grey? Do I only infer that whatever looks this way in the picture, must in reality be blond? In one sense I see it blond, in another I see it lighter or darker grey.

277. If I were called upon to describe the photograph, I’d do it in these words.

294. When blind people speak, as they like to do, of blue sky and other specifically visual phenomena, the sighted person often says, “Who knows what he imagines that to mean” – But why doesn’t he say this about other sighted people? It is, of course, a wrong expression to begin with.

295. That which I am writing about so tediously, may be obvious to someone whose mind is less decrepit.

299. ‘We cannot help but be constantly surprised by these people.”

303. The rule-governed nature of our languages permeates our life.

315. The question is clearly: How do we compare physical objects – how do we compare experiences?

326. To observe is not the same thing as to look at or to view.

“Look at this colour and say what it reminds you of.” If the colour changes you are no longer looking at the one I meant.

One observes in order to see what one would not see if one did not observe.

327. We say, for example, “Look at this colour for a certain length of time.” But we don’t do that in order to see more than we had seen at first glance.

330. We might want to say: If there were no humans, then we wouldn’t have the concept of seeing.—But couldn’t Martians say something like this? Somehow, by chance, the first humans they met were all blind.

333. If we say, “there are humans who see,” the questions follows, “And what is ‘seeing’?” And how should we answer it? By teaching the questioner the use of the word “see”?