Symmetries and Explanatory Dependencies in Physics

In Alexander Reutlinger & Juha Saatsi (eds.), Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 185-205 (2018)
Authors
Steven French
University of Leeds
Juha Saatsi
University of Leeds
Abstract
Many important explanations in physics are based on ideas and assumptions about symmetries, but little has been said about the nature of such explanations. This chapter aims to fill this lacuna, arguing that various symmetry explanations can be naturally captured in the spirit of the counterfactual-dependence account of Woodward, liberalized from its causal trappings. From the perspective of this account symmetries explain by providing modal information about an explanatory dependence, by showing how the explanandum would have been different, had the facts about an explanatory symmetry been different. Furthermore, the authors argue that such explanatory dependencies need not be causal.
Keywords Scientific explanation  Symmetry  Non-causal explanation
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