An invitation to approximate symmetry, with three applications to intertheoretic relations

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Abstract

Merely approximate symmetry is mundane enough in physics that one rarely finds any explication of it. Among philosophers it has also received scant attention compared to exact symmetries. Herein I invite further consideration of this concept that is so essential to the practice of physics and interpretation of physical theory. After motivating why it deserves such scrutiny, I propose a minimal definition of approximate symmetry—that is, one that presupposes as little structure on a physical theory to which it is applied as seems needed. Then I apply this definition to three topics: first, accounting for or explaining the symmetries of a theory emeritus in intertheoretic reduction; second, explicating and evaluating the Curie-Post principle; and third, a new account of accidental symmetry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSynthese
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2019

Keywords

  • Accidental symmetry
  • Approximate symmetry
  • Curie’s principle
  • Intertheoretic reduction
  • Intertheoretic relations
  • Similarity
  • Symmetry
  • Symmetry breaking

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