Laws and meta-laws of nature: Conservation laws and symmetries

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 38 (3):457-481 (2007)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Symmetry principles are commonly said to explain conservation laws—and were so employed even by Lagrange and Hamilton, long before Noether's theorem. But within a Hamiltonian framework, the conservation laws likewise entail the symmetries. Why, then, are symmetries explanatorily prior to conservation laws? I explain how the relation between ordinary (i.e., first-order) laws and the facts they govern (a relation involving counterfactuals) may be reproduced one level higher: as a relation between symmetries and the ordinary laws they govern. In that event, symmetries are meta-laws; they are not mere byproducts of the dynamical and force laws. Symmetries then explain conservation laws whereas conservation laws lack the modal status to explain symmetries. I elaborate the variety of natural necessity that meta-laws would possess. Proposed metaphysical accounts of natural law should aim to accommodate the distinction between meta-laws and mere byproducts of the laws just as they must accommodate the distinction between laws and accidents.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,323

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Are Conservation Laws Metaphysically Necessary?Johanna Wolff - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):898-906.
Lange’s Challenge: Accounting for Meta-laws.Zanja Yudell - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (2):347-369.
Laws in Physics.Mathias Frisch - 2014 - European Review 22:S33-S49.
A commentary and review of Montesquieu's spirit of laws: prepared for press from the original.Comte Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy - 1811 - Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange. Edited by Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat Condorcedet, Helvétius & Thomas Jefferson.
Models: The blueprints for laws.Nancy Cartwright - 1997 - Philosophy of Science 64 (4):303.
Armstrong and van Fraassen on Probabilistic Laws of Nature.Duncan Maclean - 2012 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 42 (1):1-13.


Added to PP

479 (#40,513)

6 months
28 (#109,997)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Marc Lange
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Citations of this work

Symmetry as an Epistemic Notion.Shamik Dasgupta - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3):837-878.
The Ineffability of Induction.David Builes - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 104 (1):129-149.
The Dynamical Approach to Spacetime Theories.Harvey R. Brown & James Read - 2022 - In Eleanor Knox & Alastair Wilson (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Physics. London, UK: Routledge.
Minimal Models and the Generalized Ontic Conception of Scientific Explanation.Mark Povich - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (1):117-137.
Drawing the line between kinematics and dynamics in special relativity.Michel Janssen - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (1):26-52.

View all 46 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

The world as one of a kind: Natural necessity and laws of nature.John Bigelow, Brian Ellis & Caroline Lierse - 1992 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (3):371-388.
Symmetry in intertheory relations.M. L. G. Redhead - 1975 - Synthese 32 (1-2):77 - 112.
Laws and their stability.Marc Lange - 2005 - Synthese 144 (3):415Ð432.
Symmetries and Noether's theorems.Katherine Bracing & Harvey R. Brown - 2003 - In Katherine A. Brading & Elena Castellani (eds.), Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections. Cambridge University Press. pp. 89.

View all 11 references / Add more references