What Everyone Should Say About Symmetries

Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)

Authors
Michael Hicks
University of Cologne
Abstract
The laws of physics have an interesting internal explanatory structure. Some principles explain others; some constraints fall out of the dynamic equations, and others help determine them. This leads to interesting, and non-trivial, questions for metaphysicians of laws. What sort of explanation is this? Which principles are explananda, and which explanandum? In a recent and insightful series of papers, Marc Lange has discussed these questions in detail, with a focus on the explanatory priority of symmetry principles and their associated conservation laws. Lange argues that symmetry principles are meta-laws: laws governing the laws. The symmetry principles explain the conservation laws by governing them, just as first-order laws explain first-order facts by governing them. He then claims that his metaphysical view of laws can neatly accommodate metalaws but his competitors, namely Humeans and dispositional essentialists, cannot. While I agree with Lange that symmetry principles explain conservation laws, I hold that he is wrong on all other counts. Symmetry principles are not meta-laws: they are first-order generalizations. The explanation of conservation laws from symmetry principles is not a covering-law explanation: it has more in common with reductive explanations of higher-order laws from more fundamental principles. And these facts put him at a loss relative to his primary competitor, the Humean view: this correct account of the explanatory power of symmetry principles falls neatly out of Humeanism, but must be added in post hoc to Lange's view.
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DOI 10.1086/705475
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The Metaphysics within Physics.Tim Maudlin - 2007 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 69 (3):610-611.
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Are We Free to Break the Laws?David K. Lewis - 1981 - Theoria 47 (3):113-21.

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