At the moment, I can't tell whether it's because I am tired and fail to notice the obvious or the sentence is really unusual. I've been stuck on this one for a good ten minutes including some googling with no explanation in sight, so I'm going to post this here.

Some context

This is philosophical in nature and comes from a difficult read. The original source is Defeasible Reasoning (it's a long read but search for "appeared to redly").

The whole sentence is:

If I am “appeared to redly” (have the sensory experience as of being in the presence of something red), then, Chisholm argued, I may presume that I really am in the presence of something red.

What troubles me is... what does it mean to "be appeared"? Does "I am appeared to" mean "I appear this way to others"? (So the author would mean that he appears to be red, i.e. I'd say he were red if I were to see him). I doubt this is true as this doesn't really fit with the context, but that would have been one of my first guesses. Could somebody enlighten me on this one? I could probably come up with more conjectures but I'm sure I'll just confuse myself further, waste time and make a complete fool of myself, so I'd rather ask preferably the advice of a native.

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    As explained fully in the answer, it's just an obscure phrasing used by obscure academic philosophy writers. Do note that the supposed meaning is stated right there, in ( ) braces, byt the actual writer, you can't get a better description of the supposed meaning than that.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 11:05
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    Indeed, a full-fledged explanation was given by the author, I should have cleared up the fact that I was actually trying to decipher the English reasoning behind this mess. The comments by Michael Harvey completely solved the issue, and should have been an answer imo as suggested by somebody else. Thanks for the attention though!
    – Evariste
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 17:36
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    I am puzzled by this: If I am “appeared to redly” (have the sensory experience as of being in the presence of something red), then, Chisholm argued, I may presume that I really am in the presence of something red. This presumption can, of course, be defeated, if, for example, I learn that my environment is relevantly abnormal (for instance, all the ambient light is red).' I am not a philosopher, but if all the ambient light is red, then an object which is white in daylight surely is truly 'red' at the time of perception? Kind of reminds me of that 'blue dress' thing a year or two ago. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 20:14
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    @Lambie I suspect that the adverb "redly" was deliberately chosen for the property of being odd, in the same way that Quarks were described as coming in the "colors" of Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Top, and Bottom. The dissonance (mostly) prevents people from trying to erroneously apply properties of the metaphor to the concept. "Something appears to me in a manner that is red" introduces the ambiguity of whether it should be parsed as "Something appears to me [in a manner] that is red" — where "red" applies to "something" — rather than "Something appears to me in [a manner that is red]" Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 22:56
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    It "gables me unfound" (leaves me frustrated at self indulgent, narcissistic verbiage used by academics to seem wise). Voting to "cease outwardly" (close and move on).
    – EllieK
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


Academic writing like this is often obscure and hard to understand. In this case, it does make logical sense when explained.

The passive form of “appears to me” would be “I am appeared to,” except that isn’t idiomatic English. We can use adverbs to describe how something appears to us (The most famous example is, “see through a glass, darkly.”) except, again, it’s not idiomatic English to do that with colors. So the author seems to be rearranging a thought similar to “Something appears to me as red,” into the passive voice, by the regular rules, but in a context where native speakers never do that naturally.

Why use the passive here? Because the existence of the thing that I perceive and its objective color cannot be taken for granted in this argument about epistemology. Using it as the subject of a sentence in the active voice implicitly does. Why use “redly”? Maybe because the adjective “red” would need to modify some noun, again implicitly assuming the red thing exists, but the adverb can modify the action of appearing. Maybe sheer whimsy. Or so I am appeared to.

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    I like this answer best, because it captures the transition from "the thing appears red to me" to "I am appeared to redly by the thing" to "I am appeared to redly", and why. I might think that "A photograph of a tree is deceiving me", but maybe, in reality, "A painting of a tree is deceiving me". But in both cases, "I am deceived [in some manner in which I perceive a tree]." Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 14:08
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    @JoshuaTaylor You are misled arborially?
    – Davislor
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 19:03
  • Treely would seem more in line with other examples.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 17:26
  • @Wlerin I typoed arboreally, but that word wouldn’t be out of place in academic writing. Some dictionaries do have treely, so I guess it counts as a word, but It’s very informal. I would be surprised to come across it in a philosophy paper. Still, people will understand it. Or at least, will understand it as well as “appears to me redly.”
    – Davislor
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 18:25
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    @Davislor The very unusualness and informality of treely is exactly what makes it fit for purpose, as the reader is unlikely to call to mind any unrelated meanings or connotations besides the forced "(looking) like a tree". Arboreally, conversely, can also mean (and more often means) "(living) in a tree" and being a more familiar word the reader may simply understand it (wrongly) and continue reading.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 0:20

"I am appeared to [adverb]" is a very unusual phrase, only found in philosophy texts and certainly not in everyday English.
A search in Google Ngrams reveals that it appears to be a fairly modern construct hardly seen before 1960. Following the Ngrams link to the texts where the phrase "I am appeared to" is found reveals the only instances with an adverb appear to be in philosophy where the whole phrase "I am appeared to redly" seems to be used in a number of different texts (although some use other colour related adverbs instead) and has apparently been taken up by a number of authors as part of a particular argument or reasoning.
The actual meaning of the phrase is in parenthesis immediately following I have the sensory experience as of being in the presence of something red.

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    I see what you mean. I guess that it might be considered jargon then. It appears here in a specialized encyclopedia, but I suppose that the author thought that it was still unusual enough for the intended audience that quotation marks were warranted. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 1:39
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    @MarcInManhattan - It seems to be a curious way of talking about a subjective experience (of redness) as if it were an action carried out upon the viewer by the (red) thing being perceived. I stared at it in puzzlement for a moment until I mentally inserted a comma before 'redly'. I guess that it could be similar to e.g. 'I am growled at, dogly'. I am reminded strongly of when I firmly decided to have nothing to do with philosophy or its practitioners. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 9:45
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    I might even say that when I read 'I am appeared to redly', I see red. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 12:43
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    the corresponding active-voice sentence is "something has knifely cut to me" - or "something has redly appeared to me", which at least makes sense Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 14:59
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    @MichaelHarvey your comment seems to better respond to the question (i.e. how to decipher the phrase) than this answer, would you consider adding it as an answer? Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 15:45

While the other answers and comments do a stellar job of solving this one, I wanted to break it down step-by-step, so others might more easily have the "aha" moment I had.

I am appeared to redly.

At first glance this looks like "to redly" is being used as an infinitive verb. This is entirely wrong, but it's a red herring I wanted to point out: this misinterpretation is probably what makes the entire thing seem gibberish. We can insert a comma to avoid it:

I am appeared to, redly.

Next, let's change it from passive to active.

Something appears to me, redly.

redly is clearly being used as an adverb here, and the only verb it could possibly be applicable to is appears. If something appears redly, I think it's pretty reasonable to infer it appears to be red, or more simply appears red.

Something appears red to me.

And now we're back to commonly-understood English, so it's not hard to get from there to:

I am in the presence of something red.

(or, indeed, merely having the sensory experience of being in such a presence).

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    I understand why you want to break this into some sort of grammatical pattern, but "I am appeared to X" is a piece of technical terminology used in philosophy as explained in Knowledge and Justification on page 76 by John L. Pollock. It is intended to be understood as a whole, not be a grammatical pattern that could be used elsewhere.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 13:39
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    @ColleenV, I think your comment could easily make the basis of a good answer that is better than the existing ones. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 13:57
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    And just to be perfectly clear, this very academic phrase does not mean "I am in the presence of red". It has a very specific meaning in philosophy that can't be deduced from grammar analysis. This answer while well-intentioned is simply wrong and should not be upvoted.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 14:47
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    @ColleenV: Except that passage you linked to is a very circular definition; in the definition it relies on a degenerate passive of the intransitive verb appear. That is, degenerate passive "(to be) appeared to" appears both in his new technical phrase, and in the (supposedly) plain English explanation of the technical phrase. Even if the technical phrase isn't subject to the ordinary rules of grammar, the explanation ought to be.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 21:35
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    The fun thing about jargon is usually it does make sense grammatically (and derive from grammar), if you understand the technical context better. I see nothing in the visible portion of the linked text that would invalidate this answer, especially as his explanation is explicitly for his own usage of the phrase not that of the entire field. The only thing missing from the above answer is that this tortured structure is designed to emphasize the way in which one is appeared to, rather than whatever object might be appearing that way. But that too is a function of grammar.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 17:18

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