Symmetry considerations dominate modern fundamental physics, both in quantum theory and in relativity. Philosophers are now beginning to devote increasing attention to such issues as the significance of gauge symmetry, the role of symmetry breaking, the empirical status of symmetry principles, and so forth. These issues relate directly to traditional problems in the philosophy of science, including the status of the laws of nature, the relationships between mathematics, physical theory, and the world, and the extent to which mathematics dictates physics.
In January 2001 the first philosophy of physics workshop on symmetries in physics was held in Oxford. It became clear from the success of the workshop, the enthusiasm and sense of shared work-in-progress, that the time is right for a collection of papers in philosophy of physics on the subject of symmetry. As the organizers of the workshop, we decided to bring together in one book the current philosophical discussions of symmetry in physics, and to do so in a format that would provide a point of entry into the subject for non-experts, including students and philosophers of science in general. As such, the book is intended to be accessible and of interest to a wide audience of physicists and philosophers. It is appropriat for courses in foundations of physics, philosophy of physics, and advanced courses in philosophy of science. Some of the papers in this collection originated from papers presented at the Oxford workshop, but most have been written expressly for this book.