Are the laws of physics 'economical with the truth'?

Synthese 94 (2):245 - 290 (1993)
Abstract
It has been argued that the fundamental laws of physics are deceitful in that they give the impression of greater unity and coherence in our theories than is actually found to be the case. Causal stories and phenomenological relationships are claimed to provide a more acceptable account of the world, and only theoretical entities — not laws — are considered as perhaps corresponding to real features of the world.This paper examines these claims in the light of the author's own field of research: high energy physics. Some of the distinctions upon which the above conclusions are based are found not to be tenable in practice. Examples from experimental particle physics are presented which suggest an important role of the underlying theoretical structure which cannot be overlooked. It is argued that the fundamental theories must, in fact, be treated as being as worthy or unworthy of ontological commitment as the entities they postulate or the phenomenological relationships they inspire. Whilst it is conceded that aspects of the current theoretical formalism belie literal interpretation, it is maintained that revision in these particular areas need not affect the symmetry principles, particle spectra, or coupling strengths that largely determine the empirical content of the theory.
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