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  • Cited by 8
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    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Filomeno, Aldo 2016. Fundamentality, Effectiveness, and Objectivity of Gauge Symmetries. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 30, Issue. 1, p. 19.

    Fraser, Doreen and Koberinski, Adam 2016. The Higgs mechanism and superconductivity: A case study of formal analogies. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Vol. 55, Issue. , p. 72.

    Jantzen, Benjamin C. 2015. Projection, symmetry, and natural kinds. Synthese, Vol. 192, Issue. 11, p. 3617.

    Rivat, Sébastien 2014. On the Heuristics of the Higgs Mechanism. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, Vol. 45, Issue. 2, p. 351.

    Afriat, Alexander 2013. Topology, Holes and Sources. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 52, Issue. 3, p. 1007.

    Afriat, Alexander 2013. Weyl’s Gauge Argument. Foundations of Physics, Vol. 43, Issue. 5, p. 699.

    Darvas, György 2011. The Isotopic Field Charge Spin Assumption. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 50, Issue. 10, p. 2961.

    Rickles, Dean Smeenk, Chris Lyre, Holger and Healey, Richard 2009. Gauge Pressure. Metascience, Vol. 18, Issue. 1, p. 5.

  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: October 2009

3 - On continuous symmetries and the foundations of modern physics


As far as I see, all a priori statements have their origin in symmetry.

H. Weyl

Symmetry principles have moved to a new level of importance in this century and especially in the last few decades: there are symmetry principles that dictate the very existence of all the known forces of nature.

S. Weinberg


It is difficult to overstate the significance of the concept of symmetry in its many guises to the development of modern physics. Indeed one could reasonably argue that twentieth-century physics with its pillar achievements of successful physical theories of spacetime/gravitation and the electromagnetic and nuclear interactions merits calling that century the ‘Century of Symmetry’. For symmetry played a key part in each of these developments. Of particular significance are symmetries described by continuous (Lie) groups of transformations. Such symmetry groups play a central role both in our current understanding of fundamental physics and in various attempts to go beyond this understanding. Today such continuous symmetries are often assigned a, if not the, fundamental role in the worldview of modern physics. The precise nature of this role, though, is not entirely unambiguous. Just what significance – physical, philosophical, and otherwise – is to be ascribed to the preeminent role of such symmetry groups in fundamental physics?

This paper aims to provide a brief and necessarily selective survey of the historical development of the place of continuous symmetries in physical theory.

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Symmetries in Physics
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