Symmetries, Indexicality and the Perspectivist Stance

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 34 (1):21-39 (2021)
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I critically examine the assumption that the theoretical structure that varies under theoretical symmetries is redundant and should be eliminated from a metaphysical picture of the universe, following a ‘symmetry to reality’ inference. I do so by analysing the status of coordinate change symmetries taking a pragmatic approach. I argue that coordinate systems function as indexical devices, and play an important pragmatic role for representing concrete physical systems. I examine the implications of considering this pragmatic role seriously, taking what I call a perspectivist stance. My conclusion is that under a perspectivist stance, all symmetries (including local gauge symmetries) potentially have a direct empirical status: they point to dynamical aspects that are invariant under changes of operationalisation, and they constitute a guide not to reality, but to nomology and kinship.

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Quentin Ruyant
Complutense University of Madrid


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