|We argue that one of the early goals of color vision is to distinguish one kind of material from another. Accordingly, we show that when a pair of image regions is such that one region has greater intensity at one wavelength than at another wavelength, and the second region has the opposite property, then the two regions are likely to have arisen from distinct materials in the scene. We call this material change circumstance the 'opposite slope sign condition.' With this criterion as a foundation, we construct a representation of spectral information that facilitates the recognition of material changes. Our theory has implications for both psychology and neurophysiology. In particular, Hering's notion of opponent colors and psychologically unique primaries, and Land's results in two-color projection can be interpreted as different aspects of the visual system's goal of categorizing materials. Also, the theory provides two basic interpretations of the function of double-opponent color cells described by neurophysiologists.