Improper truth

The word “truth” is an improper nominalization. Read that as parallel to this statement: The number 3/2 is an improper fraction.

One learns about fractions, proper and improper, somewhere in grade school, along with how to convert the improper ones into proper ones. After grade school, no one worries about their propriety anymore.

In other words, “improper”, in the sense I am trying to use here, does not mean you should never, never do it. It’s more like “it isn’t quite what it seems to be- so be careful”.

Consider these two statements:

  • The sky is blue.
  • There is blueness in the sky.

In the second statement, the adjective “blue” has been changed to the noun “blueness”. This is the process of nominalization, the conversion of a word, usually a verb or an adjective into a noun.

The core of my assertion is that the conversion of the adjective “true” into the noun “truth” produces something that is not quite what it seems to be, so be careful!

Back to the blue sky. Here is a photo of a really blue sky.

Blue Sky at the Four Corners

Here is something else that  is blue.

Moki in hand

The object I am holding here is known in the trade as a moki marble. Usually they are white. I bought a bag of them in a shop in Moab, Colorado, on the same trip that I took the Four Corners photo of the Blue Sky.

The following statements are valid:

The sky, in the photo, is blue.

The moki marble, in the photo, is blue.

No problem.

In the photo, there is blueness in the sky.

In the photo, there is blueness in the moki marble.

Now we have a problem.

Geologically speaking, the moki marble is an azurite concretion, a small stone weathered out of a larger mass of sandstone as a spherical body because a spherically shaped zone within the sandstone was particularly tightly cemented, oddly, in this case by the blue mineral azurite, and so this zone was resistant to erosion. That means that the blueness in the moki marble is due to a substance, the azurite, that can actually be physically separated out and possessed by someone. So the abstraction and conversion of the adjective blue into a noun blueness is paralleled by the real-world action of dis-aggregating  the azurite from the sand.

Can the same scenario play out with regard to the blue sky? Or the blueness of/in the sky? Is the sky blue because it contains a blue substance?

Well, no. For a fuller story of the blueness of the sky, I emphatically recommend Peter Pesic’s delightful little book Sky in a Bottle (MIT Press, 2005). Art, religion and science chase each other around. “The sky is blue! Calculate Avogadro’s  number”.  “The night sky is black. Calculate the age of the Universe!”

There is no substance  in the sky that makes it blue the way the azurite is a substance that makes the moki marble blue. Even so, both the statements about each having blueness are true statements. But is either statement the truth? What can we say that is true-blue?

Along the timeline of existence words came into being, phyllogenetically, some sooner than others, just as they do in our individual lives, ontogenetically. “Truth”, a noun, came from “true”, an adjective, by the process of nominalization. That the word “true” came before the word “truth” is indicated by how they are defined. “Truth” is defined by using the word “true”, but “true” is defined in a way that does not use the word “truth”.Therefore, “true” came before “truth” chronologically. Just like sand comes before sandstone.

We know that statements can be true, or false, just as we know, in a more personal way, that people can be honest or not in what they say to us. But is there a substance-like thing that can be properly called by a noun-name, the truth? If it is substance-like, like the azurite in the stone, it can be segregated out and possessed by some, and not by others.

Perhaps I should pause here to see if you have any comments to make?

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One Response to “Improper truth”

  1. Callan Bentley Says:

    I’m loving this discussion. Can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

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