The Methodological Character of Symmetry Principles

  • Otávio Bueno


In this paper, I argue that symmetry principles in physics (in particular, in quantum mechanics) have a methodological character, rather than an ontological or an epistemological one. First, I provide a framework to address three related issues regarding the notion of symmetry: (i) how the notion can be characterized; (ii) one way of discussing the nature of symmetry principles, and (iii) a tentative account of some types of symmetry in physics. To illustrate how the framework functions, I then consider the case of the early formulation of quantum mechanics, examining the different roles played by symmetry in this context. Finally, I raise difficulties for ontological and purely epistemological interpretations of symmetry principles, and offer a methodological alternative.