Symmetry as an Epistemic Notion

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3):837-878 (2016)
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Symmetries in physics are a guide to reality. That much is well known. But what is less well known is why symmetry is a guide to reality. What justifies inferences that draw conclusions about reality from premises about symmetries? I argue that answering this question reveals that symmetry is an epistemic notion twice over. First, these inferences must proceed via epistemic lemmas: premises about symmetries in the first instance justify epistemic lemmas about our powers of detection, and only from those epistemic lemmas can we draw conclusions about reality. Second, in order to justify those epistemic lemmas, the notion of symmetry must be defined partly in epistemic terms. 1 Symmetry-to-Reality Reasoning1.1 A rough introduction to symmetry1.2 The symmetry-to-reality inference1.3 Two questions1.4 Two answers1.5 Preliminary clarifications2 Against Redundancy2.1 Redundancy2.2 Is absolute velocity redundant?2.3 Some redundancies3 Against Objectivity4 From Symmetry to Detection4.1 The epistemic approach4.2 The Occamist norm4.3 From symmetry to detection5 The Meaning of ‘Symmetry’5.1 A framework5.2 Formal definitions5.3 Ontic definitions6 Epistemic Definitions6.1 Taking observation seriously6.2 How things look6.3 Observation sentences6.4 Observational equivalence7 Symmetry as an Epistemic Notion 7.1 Observational equivalence and metaphysics7.2 The Occamist norm revisted7.3 Consequences8 Conclusion.



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Shamik Dasgupta
University of California, Berkeley

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Every thing must go: metaphysics naturalized.James Ladyman & Don Ross - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Don Ross, David Spurrett & John G. Collier.
Monism: The Priority of the Whole.Jonathan Schaffer - 2010 - Philosophical Review 119 (1):31-76.
Objectivity.Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison - 2007 - Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books. Edited by Peter Galison.
Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized.James Ladyman & Don Ross - 2007 - In James Ladyman, Don Ross, David Spurrett & John Collier (eds.), Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford University Press.

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