Theory of Colours

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By the time Goethe's Theory of Colours appeared in 1810, the wavelength theory of light and color had been firmly established. To Goethe, the theory was the result of mistaking an incidental result for an elemental principle. Far from pretending to a knowledge of physics, he insisted that such knowledge was an actual hindrance to understanding. He based his conclusions exclusively upon exhaustive personal observation of the phenomena of color.Of his own theory, Goethe was supremely confident: "From the philosopher, we believe we merit thanks for having traced the phenomena of colours to their first sources, to the circumstances under which they appear and are, and beyond which no further explanation respecting them is possible."Goethe's scientific conclusions have, of course, long since been thoroughly demolished, but the intelligent reader of today may enjoy this work on quite different grounds: for the beauty and sweep of his conjectures regarding the connection between color and philosophical ideas; for an insight into early nineteenth-century beliefs and modes of thought; and for the flavor of life in Europe just after theAmerican and French Revolutions.The work may also be read as an accurate guide to the study of color phenomena. Goethe's conclusions have been repudiated, but no one quarrels with his reporting of the facts to be observed. With simple objects ;vessels, prisms, lenses, and the like ;the reader will be led through a demonstration course not only in subjectively produced colors, but also in the observable physical phenomena of color. By closely following Goethe's explanations of the color phenomena, the reader may become so divorced from the wavelength theory ;Goethe never even mentions it ;that he may begin to think about color theory relatively unhampered by prejudice, ancient or modern.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Can you lend me The Theory of Colours for a few weeks? It is an important work. His latest things are insipid." Ludwig van Beethoven ,Conversation-book, 1820
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262570213
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/1970
  • Pages: 486
  • Sales rank: 805,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a towering figure in German literature, was the author of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust, Italian Journey, The Theory of Colours (MIT Press edition, 1970), and many other works.

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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface
Preface to the First Edition of 1810
Part I. Physiological Colours.
I. Effects of Light and Darkness on the Eye
II. Effects of Black and White Objects on the Eye
III. Grey Surfaces and Objects
IV. Dazzling Colourless Objects
V. Coloured Objects
VI. Coloured Shadows
VII. Faint Lights
VIII. Subjective Halos
  Pathological Colours--Appendix
Part II. Physical Colours.
IX. Dioptrical Colours
X. Dioptrical Colours of the First Class
XI. Dioptrical Colours of the Second Class--Refraction
  Subjective Experiments
XII. Refraction without the Appearance of Colour
XIII. Conditions of the Appearance of Colour
XIV. Conditions under which the Appearance of Colour increases
XV. Explanation of the foregoing Phenomena
XVI. Decrease of the Appearance of Colour
XVII. Grey Objects displaced by Refraction
XVIII. Coloured Objects displaced by Refraction
XIX. Achromatism and Hyperchromatism
XX. Advantages of Subjective Experiments--Transition to the Objective
  Objective Experiments
XXI. Refraction without the Appearance of Colour
XXII. Conditions of the Appearance of Colour
XXIII. Conditions of the Increase of Colour
XXIV. Explanation of the foregoing Phenomena
XXV. Decrease of the Appearance of Colour
XXVI. Grey Objects
XXVII. Coloured Objects
XXVIII. Achromatism and Hyperchromatism
XXIX. Combination of Subjective and Objective Experiments
XXX. Transition
XXXI. Catoptrical Colours
XXXII. Paroptical Colours
XXXIII. Epoptical Colours
Part III. Chemical Colours.
XXXIV. Chemical Contrast
XXXV. White
XXXVI. Black
XXXVII. First Excitation of Colour
XXXVIII. Augmentation of Colour
XXXIX. Culmination
XL. Fluctuation
XLI. Passage through the Whole Scale
XLII. Inversion
XLIII. Fixation
XLIV. Intermixture, Real
XLV. Intermixture, Apparent
XLVI. Communication, Actual
XLVII. Communication, Apparent
XLVIII. Extraction
XLIX. Nomenclature
L. Minerals
LI. Plants
LII. Worms, Insects, Fishes
LIII. Birds
LIV. Mammalia and Human Beings
LV. Physical and Chemical Effects of the Transmission of Light through Coloured Mediums
LVI. Chemical Effect in Dioptrical Achromatism
Part IV. General Characteristics.
The Facility with which Colour appears
The Definite Nature of Colour
Combination of the Two Principles
Augmentation to Red
Junction of the Two Augmented Extremes
Completeness the Result of Variety in Colour
Harmony of the Complete State
Facility with which Colour may be made to tend either to the Plus or Minus side
Evanescence of Colour
Permanence of Colour
Part V. Relation to Other Pursuits.
Relation to Philosophy
Relation to Mathematics
Relation to the Technical Operations of the Dyer
Relation to Physiology and Pathology
Relation to Natural History
Relation to General Physics
Relation to the Theory of Music
Concluding Observations on Terminology
Part VI. Effect of Colour with Reference to Moral Associations.
Completeness and Harmony
Characteristic Combinations
Yellow and Blue
Yellow and Red
Blue and Red
Yellow-Red and Blue-Red
Combinations Non-Characteristic
Relation of the Combinations to Light and Dark
Considerations derived from the Evidence of Experience and History
Æsthetic Influence
Tendency to Colour
Colour in General Nature
Colour of Particular Objects
Characteristic Colouring
Harmonious Colouring
Genuine Tone
False Tone
Weak Colouring
The Motley
Dread of Theory
Ultimate Aim
Allegorical, Symbolical, Mystical Application of Colour
Concluding Observations
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