Symmetries and Explanatory Dependencies in Physics

In Alexander Reutlinger & Juha Saatsi (eds.), Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 185-205 (2018)
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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.

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Author Profiles

Juha Saatsi
University of Leeds
Steven French
University of Leeds

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