Orwell reads Bhaskar Not Uncritically

I had a silly thought while reading Dan Little’s excellent blog Understanding Society today. In a recent post we find a kind of philosophical writing that can drive a reader bananas. Discussing critical realism, he quotes from Roy Bhaskar’s Possibility of Naturalism.

Once made, however, the ontological distinction between causal laws and patterns of events allows us to sustain the universality of the former in the face of the non-invariance of the latter. Moreover, the actualist analysis of laws now loses all plausibility. For the non-invariance of conjunctions is a condition of an empirical science and the non-empirical nature of laws a condition of an applied one.

I can’t help but wonder how George Orwell would have responded to terms like “non-invariance.” After all, in his essential essay “Politics and the English language,” he writes

it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence. One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

Now it possible that “non-invariance” means something other than “variance,” in the same way that anti-anti-relativism is not the same thing as relativism. Perhaps. But I don’t think so. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to translate Bhaskar’s passage into

Causal laws are different things than patterns of events, and that’s why it is logically consistent to hold that causal laws are constant even when patterns of events vary.

Posted in Language, Research
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